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Wednesday, June 21, 2023

The Unexpected Benefit of Celebrating Failure

Many people shy away from failure. There’s constant wonder and worry about what will happen to an individual when they fail, especially in their place of work. However, celebrating failure can and often brings unexpected success. I want to share a TedTalk by the Head of X (formerly Google X), Astro Teller, where he introduces the “Moonshot Factory” where his team works to solve the world’s biggest problems, and celebrates failure as a necessity for success.

Here are a few tips from today’s TedTalk:

  • Run at the most challenging parts of the problem at hand first. Failures will often lead you to the path of success.
  • Shift your perspective. Sometimes shifting your perspective is more powerful than being smart or right.
  • Encourage the path of least resistance. Make it a safe space to fail and reward and celebrate failures. This can come in the form of hugs, high-fives, applause, promotions, or even bonuses.

Encouraging teams to take on only the most ambitious projects and allowing them to fail at them is what leads to profoundly amazing things. At X, that means celebrating teams that kill their good projects. These teams are applauded, literally, in front of the rest of the organization. They receive bonuses and vacations for recognizing that their project will fail to be great. And for newcomers to X, this can all seem a little odd.

But as a leader, Teller considers himself a “culture engineer” and believes strongly in the power of social norms. Creating a set of social norms that promote psychological safety is key to getting the best from your team. Teller said that most teams “don't think it's safe to tell you that the business plan that you asked them to make isn't really great. It's just good. Wouldn't that be amazing if they would actually tell you that, because you don't want them working on something that's good but not great. You want to unleash them, but you have to know first. And you're not operationally enough in the details to even know. They're the only people who really know.”

I hope that this TedTalk inspires you to celebrate your failures and to create an environment that encourages the path of least resistance. 

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