"Every success begins with human action"

The Sixth Pearl - Don't Punish Failure - The First Time

Creativity Has A Cost

In this next installment, we will discuss the management idea that at times people will fail to meet expectations. This can take many forms. But always keep in mind that truly creative people, such as Edison, Einstein, and many others, often "failed" on their way to monumental success. There is a story that Edison was once asked how it felt to spend over a million dollars trying to invent the incandescent lightbulb (at a time when a million dollars was worth a million dollars!). He is said to have paused and answered along the lines of: they were not failures, they were experiments! Whether this story is true or not is not important for our purposes here. What is important is the way in which we in leadership and management positions encourage our employees to try to experiment, think differently, whether inside or outside the box doesn't really matter, and the way in which we respond to them when they do something that appears to fail. 

I am not talking about the employee who chronically makes the same mistake over and over again, such as a bookkeeper or accounting staff who makes errors that are costly and repetitive, or the executive or administrative assistant who misspells the same words every time. Those are annoying and speak to competence perhaps or point out training needs. I am rather speaking of the new program idea that might seem risky but if pulled off might make significant progress for your agency, give your agency a marketing edge in innovating service delivery, or will be the next big 'light bulb'!

There is a cliche in coaching that "when you lose, don't lose the lesson". Well, that applies here too. Even if a venture fails, there are lessons to be learned in that 'failure'. Cull them out, use them as teachable moments and resolve to avoid making those again. If you seek to empower people to create, then expect them to occasionally fail. The first time we fail need not be a fatal blow. Take the failure as positively as you can, learn from it and move on to the next idea. 

If, however, the person you give the lead to continues to come up short, then it may indeed be time to cut your losses. I'd urge you to hesitate before ever cleaning house after one failed attempt. Of course, if the stakes are genuinely high, like a rocket launch, then maybe one failure is all you can allow. Short of such proportions, give creative people some room and maybe, just maybe, you will find an Edison or Einstein hiding in your midst.