The changing definition of failure

Yesterday we discussed how taking a positive approach to failure can lead to innovation and enhanced creativity.

When we as individuals and organizations change not only our definition but overall mindset around what failure is, we open ourselves up to taking more risks, seeking new connections, not getting bogged down in what we did wrong, but instead focusing on what we did well and can replicate.

Call it positive psychology, call it “looking for the bright spots”, call it “embracing failure” – the truth is the definition of failure is changing in a positive direction. 

What is your definition of failure?

I believe failure is neither black nor white, right nor wrong – but it can lead us closer to the truth, to deep learning experiences and to the insights that can help to create a more meaningful life.

Here is how my definition of failure shifted once I began taking Improvisation classes:

The old –  failure is often very personal. Just the word alone has a stigma associated with it, and often brings up feelings of shame. Failure causes an inward, closed-off response.

The new – a failure is only a true failure if there is nothing to be learned from the experience. When we aren’t punished for failing, we feel less fear to take risks, to seek out new learnings and to commit fully to whatever it is we are doing. Failure lifts us up instead of weighing us down.

Do you tend to see the positive, or the negative when you look at failure?

Tools including emotion regulation, mindfulness, and self leadership can help to moderate your relationship to failure.

What we know is, with most things – we have a choice.  We can work to strip the emotional (and often very personal) charge from a failure situation so that we view a “mistake” as a real gift.



TOOL: Choosing how to play the “scene”

When we think about a basic framework for how and why to apply the tenants of Improvisation to life off of the Improv stage, we can start by discussing the word “performance”.

Whether or not we are used to thinking of it this way…the truth is, we are all performing every moment of our lives.

If this seems daunting or strangely unsettling, you’re not alone.

Luckily, we can use the tools of Improvisation to create more conscious performance choices, (tailored for each stage or scene) to achieve more authentic, successful and meaningful interactions.

Learning and acquiring these skills allow each of us to build a toolkit of performance choices – that we can use to become more adaptable, flexible and aware in the moment.

Here are some basic tips that can help you when thinking about the performance choices we make all the time:

  1. Be present – practicing mindfulness, and the ability to read a room and pick up on non-verbal cues allows us to tailor our performances for the appropriate stage
  2. Remember the power of “status” – be aware that the choices we make in our behavior, our tone, or words, and our non-verbal communication can elicit powerful shifts in status dynamics between people.
  3. Make your performance partner look good – remember that we are often not alone on the stage. Being able to effectively communicate and collaborate with others has an obviously large effect on the overall performance of the team. Use active listening, a “yes,and” mindset and a give-and-take approach to allow space for others to achieve their performance goals.
  4. Know your objective – in each scene, we want to know what our characters objective is. Knowing our objective, “our want”, allows us to adjust and adapt our choices on stage depending on how close we are to achieving that goal.

If this blog post was beneficial to you, who can you share it with to continue the conversation?