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The Freedom to Fail

In an acting class I am taking, we were given an exercise to ruin the scene we were assigned. The object was to get out of your head and to stop playing the character or the scene the way you think it goes, but to do something completely different—and wrong. I am a natural for this exercise, since I already possess the ability to ruin every scene due to my serious lack of acting skills (unless the scene calls for angry, and then I am, for some reason, gifted).

This exercise reminds me of my aikido practice. Aikido is a difficult martial art, and there isn’t any way to learn it without feeling it. In aikido, I was taught to purposely do techniques wrong four times so I could feel what it felt like to fail.

In both acting and aikido, the freedom to fail improves your skills and abilities. When you aren’t free to fail, you aren’t free to take the actions you might otherwise take. You stay in up in your head, and you are restrained in your actions.

Are you giving yourself the freedom to fail and to learn from your failed attempts?

Learning to Make Distinctions

You are going to fail from time to time. You are sometimes going to do your very best work, and your very best work isn’t going to be good enough. If the little judge inside of you decides that you are a failure for having failed, then you won’t have gained anything from the experience.

Failure is merely an event. The most successful people you have seen have a huge wake of failure trailing off behind their successes.

Instead of judging yourself for having failed, your job is to have learned something from that failure.

Being free to fail works because it allows you to make distinctions. You get to feel things. You learn to notice differences, like “this is too much,” or “this is too little.” You get test your assumptions: “I believed that this is what would work and it didn’t. Was it poorly executed, or was my strategy wrong?”

No Excuses Offered, None Taken

It’s normal to make excuses when you fail. We don’t want to be responsible when something goes wrong or when we don’t get the outcome we really needed. But if you make excuses why the failure wasn’t your fault, you eliminate the possibility of learning from that mistake.

Special Note to the Sales Leader: If you punish failure, you will ensure that you get excuses instead of a sales organization that can learn from its mistakes.

There’s no reason to try to fail; you’ll get that experience without trying. But being free to fail means being free to try. It means being free to stretch. And, it’s a necessary part of learning and gaining situational experience.


How willing are you to fail?

How do you ensure you learn from your failures?

What distinctions have you made from recent failures?

If you lead a team, how do you embrace failure instead of punishing it?

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  • Colin Michael

    No excuses? But I have so many well-practiced reason why it’s not my fault. I have so much invested in excuses, how could you dare try to take them away? The biggest thing I learn from each failure is the new excuse that I eagerly add to my repertoire. I even have preemptive excuses that I give out before I try, or even instead of trying. Dude, I was right with you until the “No excuses” section. Now I just think you’re some kind of lunatic!

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Nice work, Colin. I believe your channeling the internal subconscious dialogue of a whole bunch of folks here.

  • Bob Wightman

    Well said and on point. When you couple this with good coaching to reinforce the learning experience of failure it is a powerful tool for growth.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      There isn’t yet even a reasonable substitute for good coaching, is there?

  • Salevoke Marketing

    Splendid article, thanks fellow aikidoka :)

    Dave Tong | Salevoke Marketing

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