why I want to always fail forward

Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Last week, I got the opportunity to go to Sacramento and participate in a design thinking session over the span of two days with other people from McClatchy departments. If you've never participated in design thinking, that's more than fine because I still don't think I could define it for you properly. Essentially, we took a crash course in solving problems in a solution-focused way, in a way that requires you to think about the users and their problems and the needs they have, instead of thinking about a problem you have and the potential solutions.

Sure. We'll go with it. I'm still learning about the process but I picked up quite a few little lessons, from feedback to experimentation, that I will carry with me as I learn more about it.

But I wanted to focus on the one that will stick in my head like a glue stick for as long as I can tell.

My favorite thing from last week was simple enough, but hard to practice – failing forward.

I am notorious for only doing things when I know what the end result will be. Notorious. And I compliment myself for it. I clap myself on the back for it. Because not failing is good, failing is bad, and I am great and good and perfect and great and good. Right? OK. Well, now that I'm done fooling myself...

It was so crucial for me to be surrounded by other people who work at the same company as me and probably look at things very similarly to me and probably will struggle with failing and making mistakes just like I will, (because, really, does anyone like to fail? Is anyone naturally OK with failure? I find that hard to believe) all the while our session leaders were reminding us that it is OK to fail, and in fact it is good to fail, because when you fail, you learn.

Take risks.
This is a crucial part of failing forward; if you only do something when you 100 percent know what the results will be, you will probably never fail, and if you do fail, it will be a fluke. But if you take risks, you will often fail, and that is OK. In fact, it's part of the process and it is crucial. Get back up and keep going.

Iterate, iterate, iterate.
The session leaders last week kept saying the word "iterate" and it stopped being a word for me after a while but when you realize that failing is inevitable, at least a few times, when you try something new, you must also realize that to keep moving forward, you must iterate, iterate, iterate. Make adjustments. If your proposal inspired questions from your supervisor, iterate again and answer those questions. If everyone hated your idea and pointed out all of its flaws, iterate and fix those flaws and make your idea shine for the next presentation.

Look back and learn.
This is the most important part – if you do not learn from what you did the first time, or the second time, or the third time, you will keep making the same mistakes. Take time to reflect at the end of every day or every project and think about what you did that went well and didn't go so well; absorb the feedback you receive from your supervisor or colleagues and look for actual results to show the success or the lack thereof after the fact. And reflect. Look back. And learn from it.

I feel like that might've just been 100 different motivational speaker talking points strung into one single blog post, but I wanted to share the lesson from last week that really stuck out to me.

How do you handle failure? Are you one of those magical unicorns that can handle it really well, or are you like me and every single setback hits you like a ton of bricks in the gut?


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