Be honest with yourself - what are the feelings that come up when you hear the word “failure”?
Is it pain? Shame? Maybe disappointment and personal doubt? Or even pride? Like most people, I’m sure you’ve experienced different types of failure - in your personal life, your career, and even your entrepreneurial endeavors. Yes, failing is never “fun”, but it can also become a blessing for you.
Many of the people I mentor talk to me about failures they’ve had while they network and during their general work routine and communication with their peers and seniors. To address that, I couldn't think of a better person than Orit Wolf to share her solutions from her own experience and profession. Wolf is based in Israel and has a unique combination of passions: She is an acclaimed international concert pianist who has performed on the world’s most respected stages.
Orit graduated from Boston University summa cum laude in piano performance and from the Royal Academy of Music in London, where she earned their prestigious DipRAM performance degree. In her other passion she is a senior lecturer and consultant in the area of innovative thinking and leadership, training some of the leading corporations and companies around the world, such as VISA, Teva, Ferring, ECI, Matrix, Orange, ZIM, Verint and many others.
When I met Orit Wolf for the first time and heard about her career path, it was clear that this woman had mastered the art of creative solutions, and the way she addresses failure was positive and different than anyone else I had met. As a pianist who started at a very young age and was educated for perfection, Orit knows what failure means.
One of her most significant lessons happened at the beginning of her career when she got to play at a concert in front of 1,000 people that was also broadcast live on the Radio. She trained hard for this great opportunity, and memorized every chord by heart. Shortly after she started playing, Orit went blank and stopped. She felt ashamed, embarrassed, and disappointed. How could she forget the piece she prepared so hard for? She managed to finish the concert somehow, but this experience had a harsh effect on her.
Orit realized it’s not safe to be “on stage” in concerts, in business, and in life—to put yourself out there, exposed to what people might say, think, or do. That realization put her progress at stake: if she wants to achieve great things as a pianist and business thought leader, she must learn to cope with unsafe situations and improvise through failures. She then started to learn improvisation and develop creativity to make those practices an integral part of her playing, performing, and business skills.
No One Teaches Us How To Cope With Failure
For the most part, the formal education system doesn’t teach us what to do when mistakes and failure occur, but teaches us to strive for success in a demanding world where failure is inevitable. Sometimes, people see different situations as the worst thing that could happen to them. As much as that view is respected, there is another view: turning failure into an opportunity to laugh about, to learn from, or to open another path for us.
More and more companies today incorporate being “failure-conscious” into their work culture, where they allow innovation and exploration, and normalize “trial and error” processes. Among those companies are eBay, Google, HP, 3M, and more. There are many ways for an individual to turn failure into a blessing, and here are Orit’s top tips to do just that:
1. Open up about your failures. They say that owning your mistakes makes you a better leader. It expresses vulnerability that connects people, and forms a great foundation for your next try! To prepare yourself to talk freely about failure, do this simple yet powerful exercise: Take a piece of paper and write your “CV of mistakes”. Get used to communicating about it, first in writing and later verbally to people.
2. Lead a Culture Of “Fail and Tell”. Make those around you feel that it’s okay to talk about mistakes by telling them yours. That will bring your relationships to a whole new level! Most people at work and in business are all about “looking good” at what they do and say. By sharing something that is embarrassing and not common for people to talk about, you are basically giving others permission to “fail and tell”.
Initiate a conversation about failure during a team or business-related meeting. Share a personal story, add humor to that, and investigate it together by asking for opinions on how could you perform better? Gradually, those talks can help cultivate a culture that speaks openly about mistakes, learn from them and improve together as a team!
3. Train Your Brain To Break Paradigms. Our brain is wired to work in a certain way that makes it difficult for most people to improvise and think outside the box to find a solution in real time, especially when they are under stress. By training our brain to improvise, we will be able to perform better when we need to change and innovate. Orit offers this challenging training idea: If you are in a group, have someone conduct the session, or if you are alone, listen to a lecture such as a TED Talk. All you need to do is write down what the lecturer that conducted the session said - with as many spelling mistakes as possible!
Past experience shows that most people will try to write fast and make few mistakes instead of making as many mistakes as possible, as requested. It’s difficult to intentionally make a lot of mistakes, but this is the lesson- breaking that pattern basically creates new synapses in our brain that relate to improvising, innovating, and thinking differently. It helps us develop a sensation of breaking the norm as a natural act that can help us in many situations, among them failure.
4. Find a Mentor to Learn from Your Failures. When Orit studied at The Royal Academy of Music in London in the 1990s, she had a habit of going to the closest bar with her teacher after each performance. They sat and reverse-engineered her mistakes or successes over a beer, analyzing what was amazing and why, and what didn’t work and why. It’s difficult for most people to reflect on themselves and provide an objective opinion, which is why having a mentor is so useful. Professional feedback can help us excel to the next level. Find a person you trust that understands your world, whether it’s someone from your work or an experienced friend, and reverse-engineer your actions together. Try to go backward and see what you can learn. Ask yourself specific questions to understand what you should keep doing and what you should improve moving forward.
Failing is an integral part of life, whether we like it or not. I won’t mention names of the world's top game-changers who failed countless times until they found their creative way to shine and reach the top, but I will leave you this: Make friends with your mistakes and failures, own them, laugh about them, and learn from them! This way, you won’t have to carry the weight of negative feelings from your past experiences, but you will keep improving toward the achievement of your life and career goals!