When recently watching James Cameron’s TED talk, I was struck by his parting thought: “Failure is an option, but fear is not.”
I starting thinking about all the times I’ve been told “Failure is NOT an option,” and how often other people must have heard this too. In one hand we’re told we need to be creative and innovative, but then on the other we’re told we’d better not fail. Where does this type of coaching lead us?
The book Nurtureshock, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, also touches on this issue. The authors mention how ‘non-specific praise’ is actually detrimental to development. They explain how in giving praise, such are ‘you’re so smart’ to help boost self-esteem, actually conditions the person to be afraid to fail. As a result, the person may be less apt to try new things out of fear of failure. Instead, the authors recommended that praise be giving in accordance with effort, such as “good job for following through and finishing that assignment on time.” This way the person learns to associate praise with effort and not with the lack of failure. The book is written in terms of children and childhood development, but I believe these lessons are just as applicable to adult coaching and mentoring.
With all the global issues were are facing today, it is more important then ever that we nurture creativity and innovation in ourselves and in others. To do this we need to cultivate awareness of our current relationship with failure, and then make a conscious decision to shift our mindset to embrace the option of failure, and not fear.