On Permission to Fail!

Editor”s Note:     Janet  L. Sernack  is one of our contributors from Israel, she gained her consulting, education, facilitation, training and executive coaching skills, from over 30 …


Editor”s Note:



Janet  L. Sernack  is one of our contributors from Israel, she gained her consulting, education, facilitation, training and executive coaching skills, from over 30 years of experience in the manufacturing and retailing and learning and development businesses to Australia’s top 100 companies as Compass Learning Pty Ltd.She now resides on the Mediterranean Coast, in Israel where she founded an Israeli Start-Up, ImagineNation, which is an imaginative, generative & provocative global learning & development company that allows coaches, managers, leaders and organisations to develop their innovative and entrepreneurial leadership capability through enterprise gamification (The Start-Up Game) innovation labs and online learning programs (The Coach for Innovators ICF CCE Certified Program).One of the things Janet said to me recently was” how come everyone is talking about Innovation and no one talks about being Innovative”Do join her 45 minute free webinar,* “Change your game – become an innovative leader and start-up entrepreneur”*,  Thursday, 11th July, at1.00pm PDT Los Angeles, 4.00pm EDT New York, 8.00pm GMT London and 11.00pm Israel, and on Friday, 12th July at 6.00am Sydney and Melbourne or join our next Coach for Innovators Certified Program starting 16th July. http://www.imaginenation.co.il/programs/

Perhaps the most misunderstood thing about failure is that no matter how much we fear and resist it, it is unavoidable!

People’s fear of failure is one of the most limiting and costly business issue facing organisations today. It is driven by the naive idea and an unconscious way of being that fears being exposed, judged, sentenced and hung, for being punished for doing something ‘wrong’!

Fear of failure is an irrational fear that we will not succeed, yet we cannot solve problems if we don’t approach them within a ‘trial and error’ context. Very often, it’s only when we make an error, that we can actually find better ways of doing things. Yet many people procrastinate and are reluctant to experiment or improvise because they fear the trial, so they avoid even experimenting with a new idea, approach or method.  The cost of this way of being is that everything stays the same and the range of passive and aggressively defensive behaviours result in complacency, avoidance and a plethora of safe and conventional ways of doing things.

Interestingly, trials seem to exist within a personal or internal self effacing form as well as an external judgmental one.

The most valuable learning’s I experienced when creating my new start-up company, ImagineNation, were the failures, and there were many! Fortunately I had developed some useful personal strategies for managing my critical self talk when these failures occurred so that I didn’t sink into my own destructive trial by internal jury. It wasn’t easy, and, at times it was difficult to sustain my motivation, vitality and enthusiasm for innovating and prototyping something that had never existed or been done before.

Using Otto Scharmers’ Theory U as my template for developing ImagineNation, seemed like a great idea at the time, however, I found that being open to entering and consistently playing in the ‘fast cycle’ learning loop, takes both incredible courage, deep commitment and the ability to be in flow.

It was easy for me to speed down through the left hand side of the U process by:

  • Paying deep attention and connecting to the field around me
  • Sensing and perceiving the cracks in the field to create the opening for a new possibility
  • Practising deep listening and questioning around my new possibility
  • Letting go of the old and allowing the new to emerge

I also enjoyed being in the ‘empty space’ and connecting to Source and deepening my creativity and connectedness. Even crystallising the intent and vision for the future wasn’t that difficult!

It was when I started Prototyping: ‘exploring the future by doing’ that I fell into a big heap. The first thing that I realised was that I had to fully let go of what I had to give without the certainty of getting anything in return. If you are a wilful and determined chronic high achiever, that is a big one to take on!

Otto defines prototyping as “an experiential microcosm of the future that you want to create”. It means presenting your ideas or work in progress before it is fully developed, the aim is to get feedback in order to refine your process, idea or solution.  “To fail often to succeed sooner” or to “fail early to learn quickly”; it’s about catalysing learning, not perfecting what you are creating; the idea is to create a ‘landing strip’ for the future. It required that I stay present and connected to my vision without know how it would happen, nor by willfully forcing it to happen. I had to trust my intuition and capability enough to improvise and connect with the aligned best people, ideas and communities.

In practical terms it meant letting my first business partnership go, without beating myself up for being a ‘difficult’ person and having failed at being collaborative! Only to realize that this was actually a gift, that triggered my creative juices and became a true liberating process. It also meant letting go of my disappointment when the game designer told me, after working with him for 3 months, that he was ‘too busy’ to work on my project. Only to deep dive and connect with a fabulous new gamification resource who really listened and reflected on my unique need set and were far more professional, creative, collaborative and innovative in designing a response to my quest.  Great stakeholders seemed to just ‘turn up’, and it was easy to co-create an aligned and talented global delivery team.

I always seemed to be taking four steps forwards and then five more backwards, almost on a daily basis. I had to constantly be present to, and to choose to remain this state of mindful reflection, constant correction, continual clarification and improvisation to create the kind of flow and connectedness that could keep me in motion.

The straw that finally broke my literal camel’s back, was the website designer, who whilst being brilliantly creative was completely technically and professionally incompetent. In this case, it was a classic example of choosing someone who should not have been involved and as a result, it slowed me down, demotivated me and sapped my energy. It did, however, cause me to let go of my rational mind, and adapt in ways that may actually produce a better result down the track.

I also noticed that the more people I connected and debated with, the larger and more global my vision became for contributing to the common good.

There is an incredibly powerful opportunity for organisations and leaders to re-think and re-frame failure, in the corporate context. To understand and empathize with perfectionist behaviour , to utilise the inherent strengths these people bring to the table, and not make them ‘wrong’, or in charge either! To focus on possibilities, opportunities and solutions for those people who are reluctant to let go of the past and invest in the new. To contextualise failure usefully, by creating learning labs and reward mechanisms for the evolution of great ideas, and by giving people permission to fail when they experiment with them!

Mistakes are inevitable, let’s make them useful rather than a useless drain on energy and resources.

As leaders we have the power to enable people to develop what Otto calls ‘a deeper source of intelligence’, by embodying the integration of four activities:

  1. Focusing on clarifying intention.
  2. Working a lot or immersing ourselves in the task.
  3. Breaking the flow, switching context, relaxing and paying attention to what emerges.
  4. Following the spark that begins to emerge and prototyping it quickly and really learning by doing, and not just talking about it!

You never know what might happen!



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