Groundhog Day is right around the corner, which always reminds me of the movie with Bill Murray. I love that movie. In case you haven’t seen it—is that even possible? Groundhog Day is about a guy who keeps living the same day over and over again and eventually sees it not as some sort of bizarre damnation, but as an opportunity to learn from his mistakes to make the next day better. I think what I really love about it is when he finally accepts that “tomorrow” isn’t coming and settles into the reality that if he wants things to be different, he just has to buckle down and do the work of change. This is a brilliant insight for leaders. Failure is integral to growth.
For some reason many of us are really uncomfortable with the process of life which is often to learn things through failing, then fixing our failures and moving forward into the next failure. None of us were born knowing how to do anything, really, but we’re still uncomfortable with the sometimes frustrating and embarrassing process of learning. As if we should know how to walk through all the changes life throws at us, even if we’ve never dealt with them before.
Whenever we take a new job, add a responsibility, try a new technology or a fresh approach to a problem, we’re likely to encounter failure. The only alternative is to NOT grow, NOT experiment and NOT expand our knowledge base and understanding. But that hasn’t worked so well for most companies or individuals who tried it and found that the world moved on and left them behind with an obsolete skill set or leadership approach. Talk about failure.
The companies that are succeeding on the basis of innovation are those that think of failure as a sign that you’re working to be creative and push the envelope. They know you can’t try something new and get it right all the time. They accept that a part of being a cutting-edge organization is that some of the products or approaches you embrace are going to turn out to have been a bad idea, in hindsight. But they will teach you something, and that’s worth the price of failure. Organizations that succeed here have leaders who may not love failure, but neither do they fear it. And they’d certainly rather fail than never try. The organizations that succeed here extend the same encouragement toward employees. They’d rather have employees who spread their wings and fall on their faces than employees who just settle down into the nest and wait for the next worm to be delivered.
We love the idea of an overnight success. But the truth is, that’s largely a myth. It’s certainly a unicorn. It’s like winning the lottery. For most people, success comes—as it came to Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day—by applying yourself day after day, working through your mistakes and recording your progress until, sooner or later, you get there.
And then it’s time to set another goal and start all over again.