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VOL. 132 | NO. 117 | Tuesday, June 13, 2017


Michael Graber

Unlock the Value of Failure

MICHAEL GRABER, Special to The Daily News

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A Front End of Innovation 2017 keynote by Soon Yu. This talk spoke of the emotional toll of being a professional innovator. The candor and transparency of the speaker made it one of the most engaging keynotes in a stellar year of speakers. Essentially, when we innovate things, we too are being remade. These are tips to handle this process mindfully.

Most of you “have experienced failure trying to innovate.” You all “fail well.”

Failure is just part of what innovators do. We share each other’s pain. The question is how you take failure and reframe it to be a competitive advantage.

Here are the Dirty Secrets about failure.

Dirty Secret No. 1: “I am a much bigger failure than a success.” The stats: Yu has had four “career restarts.” Five businesses dissolved. Six layoffs conducted. More than 30 failed product launches. A 300 credit score achieved two times.

Failure teaches you more than success, makes you more mature, builds empathy and is a badge of courage, yet…

Dirty Secret No. 2: “All the above is crap.” It’s crap because “most failure is wasted.”

In fact, “failure sucks,” Yu says with pain in his voice. “Let’s face it, you get disappointed, defensive, resentful, stigmatized, and embarrassed. Failure is a tough, tough place to be.”

For these reasons, “we suck at failing.”

The five stages of disappointment are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

“We rationalize it wasn’t really our mistake to begin with,” he adds, but it may be. “We may be playing the blame game.”

We blame others, circumstances, data – and only if we are honest, ourselves.

“I got fired because I didn’t do my job right,” he adds. “That’s the simple truth. I laid people off and was tuned out, desensitized. I was stubborn. Put money into dumb things.” Yu confessed these failures to keep the pride and romance out of failure.

How do you unlock the value of failure?

Yu recommends both “drive by”-style feedback and going in depth annually. The payoff for doing this feedback includes:

1. Stop repeating same mistakes.
2. Intimate knowledge of virtues and vices.
3. Knowledge of where you stand with others.

So, what do you do with this feedback?

Evolve. We, as humans, “are living prototypes.” We are “always in the process of getting feedback and adapting. We want to know what works and what doesn’t. More important, we will be less defensive and more curious.”

What do you do as a prototype?

1. Experiment with new skills and behaviors.
2. Close your gaps.
3. Innovate your strengths.
4. Take stock and reapply.

So, how can failure make you more compelling? Harness the power of a good story and stronger storytelling. Turn “your presentation into a hero’s journey that requires help from the work community. Speak to challenges and obstacles that demonstrates courage and change.”

“Recovery from an epic episode is a story people will love.”

Most of the world is frightened of failure, “but the best innovators know how to mine failure for gold.”

Michael Graber, managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, can be reached at southerngrowthstudio.com.

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