Time to embrace our failures

If you’re not willing to fail, you can’t innovate. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
If you’re not willing to fail, you can’t innovate. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
When we meet people, we immediately judge and categorise them, based on how they look and how that fits with people we have met before who look that way.
It’s our brain’s way of processing information rapidly so we can make a timely judgement — do I trust this person? Do I fight? Do I flee?

Similarly, when we have a conflict or an argument with a person, there is often a lot more going on than the argument itself . Our entire backlog of conversations with that person combine to support our position — do I like this person? Do I trust this person? Has this person supported or undermined me in the past? What side of the fence does this person sit politically or socially?

When we walk the street at night and hear footsteps behind us, we feel fear because of what we have experienced in society. The keys come out of our bags, we put the keys between our fingers to fight off an attacker, we scan our horizon and plan our exit strategy.

Our brain is a phenomenon, in a matter of seconds we compute mega-data to make rapid decisions — it’s like artificial intelligence on steroids. However, just like artificial intelligence, our brain often processes imperfect, or incomplete data, which leads us to make wrong or slightly wrong assumptions.

The man I met, who looked old, conservative and stale, is actually an incredibly innovative thinker who promotes diversity. The argument I had came about because I interpreted someone’s position based on my own experience, without seeking to understand their experiences. It wasn’t necessary for me to put my keys within my fingers; the bloke behind me was wandering home, just as I was, he had no bad intentions.

Making mistakes is human nature — we constantly re-frame, adjust and even pivot — we have to — to survive. We understand these types of adjustments implicitly, yet as a society, we are increasingly critical of those who think differently to us, we frown upon mistakes as if we never made them ourselves and as for what we do to those who fail on a large scale — well, that’s too sad to even describe.

We are great at showing our strong sides, our successes — we don’t share the mistakes of our children, only their trophies, in our CVs we cite the string of achievements, never the failures that shape us.

Last week, I was reminded of the power of sharing vulnerability when I was taking a workshop for the interns at AbacusBio. One of the interns shared a story which helped explain her path, the success she had had, followed by the failures which had blocked her progress and led to a loss of confidence. When she was speaking, the room was silent, we lived her story, we lived her vulnerability and admired her bravery for sharing. At the end of her speech, as a group we felt closer and wanted to work together to make all of our journeys easier.

Brene Brown, an international leadership expert, puts it like this:

"No vulnerability, no creativity. No tolerance for failure, no innovation. It is that simple. If you’re not willing to fail, you can’t innovate. If you’re not willing to build a vulnerable culture, you can’t create."

As we move into our holidays it’s a time to reflect, to reset and to learn. In our personal and professional lives, we all make mistakes and get things wrong. We all have moments of doubt and moments of unbridled confidence. There is no way, with all the decisions we make and all the data we process, anyone can ever be even close to perfect.

Let’s do more in 2022 to embrace failure, celebrate mistakes and present our full, imperfect selves. Let’s also be better at asking for help when we need it, no matter our position or status. Perhaps if we can lead by example in celebrating our whole selves, our young people will learn it’s OK to fail, it’s OK to be vulnerable and it’s OK to ask for help. By doing this, we will do more to support mental health than any pharmaceutical company ever can or will.

 - Anna Campbell is the co-founder of Zestt Wellness, a nutraceutical company and a partner of AbacusBio Ltd, an agri-technology company.

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