Are You Willing to Fail?

Taking risks is the key to innovation and taking risks means that you need to be willing to fail.
Taking risks is the key to innovation and taking risks means that you need to be willing to fail.
Taking risks is the key to innovation and taking risks means that you need to be willing to fail.

I’m launching a new initiative this week called ProjectTalks.  This is a one evening event with five speakers over two hours. Will it work? I am not positive but you bet on the fact that I will do everything I can to make sure we have a full house on April 5th in Toronto.


So what happens if it doesn’t?  I have spent most of my professional life as an entrepreneur. I have launched several small businesses or new initiatives and can honestly say that the majority worked well. But the other half of the story is most important – many did not work.


FailureAnd that’s all right by me. In each case, I understood why and took the lessons learned forward to my next adventure. In some cases, like with I didn’t pay enough attention to it.  In other cases, like with, I hadn’t done my homework.  And in a few cases it was simply a case of the stars not being aligned – like a few of the conferences I launched over the years.


I read a wonderful article this past week in the Globe and Mail’s Leadership Lab by a serial entrepreneur named Brian Scudamore.  Brian writes about the culture that he learned to embrace and grow within his organizations.  This did not come naturally or immediately in each case. Like every entrepreneur he grew and learned how to make things work and more importantly how to deal with things that didn’t work.


And this is what the article is all about – how to deal with things that don’t work. He calls it the WTF culture – that is Willing to Fail (not what you think!)


Brian says “…the best leaders are the ones who embrace risk taking (and failure) and who can own their mistakes.” Absolutely.  I learned early on as an entrepreneur that taking risks is the key to innovation and taking risks means that you need to be willing to fail.


But taking risks also means that you are prepared for any outcome. You need to be prepared. Preparation for failure is also known as risk management and as managers and leaders, we should know how to manage risk at all times. Entrepreneurs don’t get this at the beginning but eventually we figure that out. We learn to hold off or calm down our enthusiasm for an idea and instead take valuable and important time to assess and manage the risks involved. Financial risks, personal risks, risks to our family, risks to future and current employees and more.


But once we get through that stage we need to be ready for the psychological effects of failure. This is not easy for most people.


The WTF culture supports this.  Being part of this culture allows us to learn and adopt to failure, manage the results and learn going forward.


Scudamore writes “Building a WTF culture within an organization tells everyone around you that you are willing to fail. Leaders need to understand how to take the blame and acknowledge failure. Leaders need to understand how to manage the people around them and the effect of failure can have. In a WTF culture we all learn together.”


And also suggests that to pull this off we need to embrace vulnerability.


“…vulnerability can be a powerful tool and failure can generate new opportunities for growth. A corporate culture built on trust will be far more agile and innovative in the long run.”


My entrepreneurial life is not over yet. My WTF culture is definitely cushioned by those around me. But my role has been to embrace this culture and make sure everyone around me is comfortable being a part of it. This helps me succeed and definitely helps me manage the failures.


I think ProjectTalks will work. I also think that my other new venture called “ProjectSpeakersNetwork” has potential. I was thinking the other day of even going back to SharingTravelIdeas and giving it another kick at the can. I think I’ll leave alone for now.


Working within a WTF culture is fun, stressful and very rewarding. Maybe those around you might enjoy it as well.


Brian Scudamore (@brianscudamore) is the founder and CEO of O2E (Ordinary to Exceptional) Brands, which includes companies like 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, WOW 1 DAY PAINTING, You Move Me and Shack Shine.


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