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Snuggle Up With Failure

We are not OK with failure. I’ve never seen a CEO’s bio proclaiming the projects that went belly up. I won’t log onto your website today and hear about your underperforming men’s ministries or how last weekend’s services were completely average. I often tease a pastor friend of mine that I’ve never seen a Tweet that doesn’t describe every event at his church as “AMAZING!!!”   

I’m guilty too. I refuse to talk about HighSchoolPayback.com which ranks as my worst idea for a project…EVER! Enough said. 

But I truly believe if we want to cultivate life-changing innovation we need to strike a more balanced perspective on success and failure. Otherwise this distortion will drown out the dreams of our dreamers, choke out creativity, and handcuff our innovators. 

So here are a few suggestions: 

Everybody wants to start a movement these days. And frankly, that bothers me. Size has become the unfortunate benchmark for value creation. I like the concept of “Go Big or Go Home” but not everybody has to be as wildly successful as TWLOHA, charity:water, or LifeChurch.TV.  

Our definition of value has been hijacked by speed of growth, prominence, and attention. But it is critical for all of us to understand that the true worth of an idea isn’t determined by whether our efforts are showcased in the New York Times or if we have 500,000 Facebook Fans. These things are certainly helpful, but ultimately can be misleading and a bad reference point for value. 

Value creation happens when someone is impacted for the good, lives are changed, people are transformed, and hearts are healed. 

As leaders we need to celebrate and highlight the things that are simple yet truly profound. Too often we overlook the killer project happening right in front of us because it’s just not sexy enough. 

And for all you innovators, focus on building something that works well locally and then deal with the larger movement when it’s kicking down your door. Until then serve faithfully knowing you’re making a difference. 

I realize our work is important and the stakes are high. But holy cow do we need a good dose of perspective sometimes. I’ve seen heads roll over the misspelling of a word in the weekly bulletin, a poor choice of paint color for the lobby, or lack luster attendance at the youth miniature golf event.

For some leaders, a chill pill may be just what the doctor ordered. Sometimes our obsession with excellence has sucked the life right out of our team. If you have no room for error, then you have no room for dreams.

I guarantee if you and your staff are having a good time, then you have created an environment for new ideas to be birthed. But if laughter doesn’t fill your office hallways, my guess is you’ve got an innovation problem. 

Before Apple sold 2 million Ipads in just 2 months, they first had to fail at the Newton. The Newton was the first tablet platform that Apple developed that the public rejected. Though the device never really caught on, it certainly can be seen as a pre-cursor to the smashing success of the Ipad and a legitimate part of that story.  

Too often we want to pretend that failed ventures never happened. We erase them from the history books. We frown upon the people that even dare to bring those events up. But what is even worse is that we pretend our failures have no impact or relevancy on what is working well today. 

Listen, don’t diss your disasters. Show them a little respect. As a leader, having transparent dialogue of struggle, failure, and the honesty of your checkered past will only sweeten the experience when success finally comes your way.  

Photo by Daley Hake. www.DaleyHake.com