“What?! Who wants to fail? Failure’s not a good thing, is it?” I’m not sure about you, but when someone first told me to fail often, that was my response. I heard the disdaining voice in my head saying, “You’re nothing but a failure.” Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.” If he didn’t try that next time, we wouldn’t have light bulbs.
There’s a term we use in coaching – Fail Forward. Every time we do something that’s not just right, we’ve taken another step forward toward success. We just don’t do stuff perfectly the first time out of the gate.
There are four stages to learning and perfecting a skill.
Unconscious Incompetence is when you don’t know what you don’t know. Before you learned how to ride a bike, there was a time that you didn’t even know that was a possibility.
Conscious Incompetence – you’ve discovered a skill you want to learn and you’ve been practicing, but you’re not good at it yet. There’s lots of room for improvement during this stage.
Conscious Competence is when you’re getting pretty good at the skill you’re trying to learn, but you still have to think through the steps. Think of learning to drive and what it took to go from park to moving forward. “OK, foot on the break; shift into drive; look left and right and into both mirrors; foot on the gas and press just a little; watch out for obstacles…” You have the skill, but it isn’t consistent or habitual yet. Lots of concentration is still required.
Unconscious Competence is when you’re doing something without even realizing it. The skill has become automatic and the conscious mind can focus on other things. Go back to the driving example. What are you thinking about when you get in the car and get going? Probably everything but the steps involved in the process.
Malcom Gladwell, best-selling author researched the science of mastery. In his book Outliers, he says that achieving mastery is the result of continual, consistent effort – 10,000 hours of deliberate practice!
Most people don’t know that Bill Gates’ and Paul Allen’s first venture was to build a business around collecting traffic data. The dream was to have a light post on every corner of every street processing traffic. The company failed.
Bill and Paul learned lots of lessons from that big failure and a few years later Microsoft was born, and Gates’ vision of “a computer on every desktop, in every home, running Microsoft software” is pretty close to reality making him a mighty rich man!
If you think about it, most success stories are built on failure. Albert Einstein was labeled “dull” and “moderately talented” by his teachers. He went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics.
Marilyn Monroe was considered by Fox as “unattractive” and “a bad actress”. In 1999 she was ranked 6th greatest female star of all time!
When you fail, you learn. A toddler takes her first successful steps to Daddy’s arms only after falling down hundreds of times. So think big, and fail forward!
It’s best said by Gary Keller, New York Times bestselling author, business life coach, and keynote speaker: “I don’t think A to B. Blow up the alphabet and start living for Z.”