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Perhaps the most offensive f-word today is failure. It can be a painful experience for any of us. We’ve all been there! Yet, some of the most innovative companies like Google and IDEO value failure. They understand that failure is an important part of the creative process.
While at a conference last year, I heard Tina Seelig, Executive Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, give a talk on creativity and innovation. She talked about having her students write a failure resume. I was surprised at this concept, as the traditional resume which we have been accustomed to writing focuses on our successes. By having students write a resume that summarizes personal, professional and academic “screw-ups,” Seelig invites them to reflect on each experience and describe what they have learned. What I appreciated about this exercise is its power to help us shift our beliefs and assumptions about failures and consider them as important to our learning.
A few weeks after the conference, I sat down to write my own failure resume. Harder than it sounds! Yet, it gave me insights about my appetite for and willingness to take risks, and explore my reactions to failure and success. Some of my failures related to not having taken risks or inaction – for example, not taking the opportunity to study abroad while I was in University. Some of my failures had to do with having taken on risks and challenges to expand and stretch.
What I learned from reflecting on my failures is that my most powerful learning has ultimately come from some of the biggest challenges I have experienced. I learned failing does not mean I am personally a failure. Failure is external to us. It is about getting up, brushing off the dust, deliberately reflecting on what we have learned, and trying again.
Why should we care enough to embrace the f-word? Because, as Seelig points out, if we want to have successes, if we want to create and innovate, we must be willing to take risks and embrace our failures.