Challenge. Disrupt thinking. Find a dangerous idea and go for it.

It seems to me that leaders today need to hone their decision-making skills in order to ideate and make game-changing leaps. Yet it’s incredibly easy to let fear overtake us. With a focus on getting things 100 per cent perfect as opposed to achieving forward momentum many find themselves well and truly frozen in time while everyone else seems to be moving at warp speed. Add to the need for perfection a massive dose of ‘fear of failure’ and the self sabotaging resistance and procrastination kicks in, our creative thinking is blocked, energy drained and businesses (and ideas) stay stuck in the here and now of status quo.

Every successful person has experienced a fail at some point. Steve Jobs, Edwin Land, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Sara Blakely — they all had a dream, they all in one way or another took a risk in order to live those dreams. Think of Steve Jobs leaving the security of Apple when he wasn't happy with its direction (he was sacked) and founding Pixar. Think Sara Blakely a one time Disney World ride-greeter and door-to-door fax machine salesperson who invested her $5,000 life savings in a new line of shaping underwear, Spanx. According to Forbes her net worth is now estimated at over US$1 billion. It was Mark Zuckerberg who said, “The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”

Failure is life’s greatest teacher — if we decide it to be so. When things go wrong we have a number of choices to make:

  • Wallow in the failure, focus on the negative and use it as evidence to stop trying, or
  • Choose to find the lesson and learning and understand that a fail is just a small step in our journeys.

The key difference in this mindset is our own ability as leaders to adapt, and become a better version of ourselves. Attitude, and the ability to think beyond the immediate sense of disappointment, fears, and bewilderment are imperative in turning a fail into an act of forward momentum.

James Dyson managed to ‘fail’ 5,127 times before he achieved what became the world’s first bagless vacuum cleaner. James Dyson now, as it was quoted in Forbes magazine, “owns more of England than the Queen”.

Think about getting on an escalator. If it breaks down when you have made it halfway, do you stop, turn around and go back to the start and find the stairs instead? Of course not — you use your own momentum and energy to continue your journey. The same needs to happen in business. You learn from the lack of movement. You decide not to let it freeze you, your relationships, your connections and opportunities into one place. Instead, you push through and you move forwards.

Things are changing at an incredible rate; the business cycle is becoming shorter and shorter. New competitors are emerging every day and the interconnectivity of the global economy and speed of technology mean change is present and phenomenally fast. A willingness to try, to test and to give it a go is essential to remaining relevant. An acceptance to fail fast and move on, knowing that with every failure comes and opportunity to see the lessons of the experience and to push forward, is key to being a game changer versus a game resister. Failure is a chance to regroup, learn and grow.

Failures happen. The proverbial does hit the fan. Plans don’t quite go to plan. But if we want to keep moving forward we have to recognise a fail is just that — a fail.

Not failure.

The sooner we teach ourselves the difference, the sooner we understand just what leadership — and therefore success — is.