Fear of Failure or Innovation? You choose

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Shut down your fear of failure

No matter how many times we hear successful entrepreneurs and CEOs rave about how important it is to fail, for product ideas to fall over or how their start-up flopped, the fear of failure remains a crippling part of our professional and personal existence. Here’s how to shut it down in four words.

F.A.I.L. = First Attempt In Learning

FAIL = First Attempt In Learning. This oldie but goodie is surprisingly simple and something we all so easily forget. Regardless of whether you’ve heard of this F.A.I.L. acronym before, we all know that failure, and learning from it, is deeply ingrained in many of our endeavors, we just tend to forget.  

From our earliest attempt at communication with a cry that may not have been understood to learning to walk, riding a bike, applying for that first job, failure is part of success.

Failure is also a process of innovation. Do we fear innovation? Initially, some of us do. We can be fearful of the change that comes with innovation.  That’s why many of us are grateful to the early adopters who try things out for us.

On the flip side, we praise innovation. We revere and embrace those who are successful. Those entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs of the world.

Try to imagine for a moment, a world without penicillin, light bulbs, post it notes and heaven forbid, for some of us, a world without wine! We champion innovators and read articles like 10 Traits Of Great Innovators to improve our innovative selves and to know how to recognise innovation in others.

So why do we fear failure?

One of our favourite authors, speaker, and marketer, Seth Godin, believes the reason goes back to a time when fear and failure meant a whole lot more than looking bad. The components of fear were put together long before we were even born when our primitive brain (which still affects the instinctive part of our thinking) required a whole different set of survival instincts in order to get through the day. This was a time when we had to rely on our reptilian brain to cope and we literally had to run (take flight) or be prepared to fight, hence the common term, ‘fight or flight’. It was our first suit of armor.

When asked how do we overcome our reptilian fear, Seth says that we cannot and should not fight against the fear, rather, we should “dance with the lizard”.  In other words, we should acknowledge that we are fearful and do it anyway.  We should do the opposite of what the lizard is saying!

So now with these concepts in mind, let’s take a look again at the words fear and failure with some management strategies thrown in.

What is fear and how to deal with it?

Fear is how our body reacts to any kind of threat (being rejected, speaking out, sharing an idea, not being good enough, asking questions) like we are on the run from a Tyrannosaurus Rex. We get stressed. We might fumble, sweat, not think straight, even have heart palpitations or shortness of breath.

Now while it is near impossible to avoid our fears, stress, or “threats” in our day to day, we can build resilience to them. We can learn to ‘dance with the lizard’. A popular strategy, we’ve seen work countless times, is to re-label your stressful/fearful event from a ‘crises’ to a ‘challenge’. That’s right, by simply swapping words you can change your mindset, with remarkable effect on how you deal with a situation. From facing a fear to facing a challenge.

What is failure and how to deal with it?

Failure” according to Collins Dictionary “is a lack of success in doing or achieving something, especially in relation to a particular activity”.

Failure, according to the team at What’s Your Edge? is a perfect human trait and a vital part of the process for success in learning and innovation. And our strategy for dealing with failure?

  • Stop giving ourselves and others a hard time for getting it wrong.
  • Embrace and celebrate the process not just the end result.
  • F.A.I.L. together and learn from each other

Another effective failure-management strategy is the concept of ‘Perfect Intent’.

Perfect Intent is a really important message we weave throughout our facilitation work, particularly with teams and Team Intelligence™. It’s about remembering that most people don’t wake up with the intention to be bad at what they do or wanting to sabotage a situation. Most of us start the day with the intention to be happy, to do our best and help others along the way.

If we go into new learning opportunities, innovation sessions, implementing new programs, starting new jobs, teams or businesses, with the notion of perfect intent we can and should be less harsh on ourselves when things don’t turn out perfectly the first time or the ten thousandth time!


When we give ourselves the space to fail freely we lose, or lessen, our fear of failure. When we give others space to F.A.I.L., knowing and trusting their perfect intent, relationships develop and innovation occurs.

So what’s it going to be? Fear of failure or the innovation challenge? You choose.

Oh, and remember consistent practice, where you’ll probably fail often (Ahhhhhhh!!!), will be required for maximum results.