Conditioning failure


If you want to watch someone work a group with finesse, confidence and ease – watch a seasoned street performer. Their very livelihood depends on how well they can engage a diverse crowd of people for just 15-20 minutes.

While watching one such performer at a busker festival on the weekend, I was amazed at how well he trained the crowd to accept any potential mishaps. At the beginning of the performance, he told us that if he dropped anything, we should all go, “boooo”.

Of course, not long after while he was juggling, one of the pins fell to the ground. Immediately, the whole crowd booed on cue, laughing at the same time while he displayed mock outrage. The assumption was it was part of his act, an easy way to involve the crowd while eliciting fun and laughter. However, perhaps the drop wasn’t on purpose. He’d simply found an easy way to condition us to not see his mistakes as things that should cast a shadow on all the other amazing feats he did accomplish flawlessly. The mistakes – intended or not – allowed him to connect with the audience while also trying skills he might not normally for fear they wouldn’t succeed and would ruin the act.

What would happen if we did the same thing in our workplaces? If we conditioned ourselves to not view mistakes and failures as things that take away from our performance (and, let’s admit it, harm our ego), but rather as opportunities to try new things, improve ourselves, and reach out and connect with others? What would happen if we could make light of our failures in the same way the busker did and not harshly judge others for their own? Seeing them as not something shameful to be hid, but just normal occurrences?

I think we wouldn’t be so worried about dropping the ball that we’d be willing to step into the spotlight more often.

A Team Human Conversation

Fight workplace zombies in your organization and join Team Human! Gather a group of fellow workplace zombie hunters to discuss our most recent blog post. Use the questions below to kick start your conversation.

  1. When was the last time you didn’t do something because you were afraid of making a mistake or failing?

  2. What’s your biggest fear about making a mistake?

  3. What can you do more of as a team/organization to create a culture that allows people to make mistakes and fail?