For a failure culture to work, it must be accompanied by an environment of psychological security. Everyone in the team must feel deeply supported to dare to take risks. That is much more than a pat on the back if something has not succeeded. It means that individuals feel and experience again and again that as long as they keep trying, without being desperate or reckless, in pursuit of a meaningful goal, they will never lose their self-respect, even if they encounter major failure.
Amy Edmondson, professor at Harvard Business School, formulates three ingredients to create psychological safety in a knowledge economy. Firstly, make it clear to teams that the work is not an execution problem, but a learning problem; second, stimulate curiosity; and thirdly, recognize your own fallibility. We add that it is important to realize that in almost all cases failure is not permanent, there is always another day.
This requires a lot of creative leaders who manage innovation teams. Most employees understand that in a world characterized by uncertainty, and the only way forward is one of exploration. Stimulating curiosity is becoming more difficult. It is not that simple to create, under performance and time pressure, space to ask difficult questions, to diverge, and remain open to alternative versions of reality. The final last ingredient, the recognition of one’s shortcomings, may require leaders to do the impossible. After all, all leaders will tell you how often they must do the lonely dance between two polarities: the radiating of unshakeable trust and showing their own fallibility.