The importance of failure in innovation is all the buzz right now. Business modeling and lean startups are great ways to mitigate and manage the risk of failure. There is a great deal to be learned from failure if we choose to learn it. That’s part of the reason I think Experiment-Learn-Apply-Iterate is the new PDCA cycle of the world.
But, is failure — the freedom to fail — really a luxury?
Stop and think about the decisions most of us have faced and will face. Seldom are they totally, completely irrevocable and permanently life altering. I’m not talking about emergency situations like medical emergencies, etc.; I’m talking about choosing to try something we are passionate about, we want to create or make happen where failure is a definite possibility and going for it. We are basically free to fail, even if our culture doesn’t always accept failure. We try things, we experiment and if it doesn’t work, we try again. Few of our failures are life threatening or make us social outcasts forever.
In the developed world, people expect (and probably get) second, third, fourth chances.
In our country, choosing to take a risk as described above may not be an option. A failure may not be life-threatening but may mean being permanently disowned, cast out, shunned — for you and maybe even your family, especially in cultures where there is a strong sense of saving face and shame. Your life is irreversibly altered. A failure may wipe out all your and your family’s meager assets without the possibility of a “regular” job or any chance of restitution as options, condemning your family forever.
It’s not clear to me that failure is as readily an option as it is for most of us. It seems that failure may actually be a luxury to some in the rest of the world can’t afford.
As we toss around the word and concept of failure so nonchalantly, maybe we should understand and appreciate that perhaps it is a luxury for most people even if it’s not for us. What if the freedom to fail is a privilege and blessing not to be taken for granted? Would that increase our learning and application from failure? What if we look at our organizations, communities, countries, and cultures to see what we can do to make the freedom to fail no longer a privilege and blessing to us, but to others as well.