On a recent team trip to Wales we talked about becoming more “client-centred”. One of the initiatives the team came up with to help us achieve this goal is our “Church of Fail”.
Many organisations talk a good story when it comes to failure.
It’s a common theme in business writing: “if you want to succeed double your failure-rate”. That’s my favourite, from Thomas J Watson, Sr., long-serving president of IBM. But everyone from Abe Lincoln to Colonel Sanders apparently loved to fail, and learn from their failures.
This lore celebrating failure has transferred nicely from the business gurus and is regularly spouted by CEOs and business managers alike.
However, in my experience, the reality in most companies is somewhat different.
Many, many people, including the most senior, spend an inordinate amount of time and energy hiding, covering up and, if that fails, defending their mistakes. Spinning them so they look like something different. In fact, the masters manage it so well their failures often don’t look like failures at all.
So, trying to do something a little different, we really do (at least some of the time) celebrate failure at NixonMcInnes. Every few weeks everyone is invited to a meeting room, transformed for the occasion into an almost believable church-like setting. And there under the guidance of our “minister of fail” public confessions of failure are held.
One by one people go up to the front, turn and face the “congregation” and confess publicly to mistakes, errors, and failures; small, medium and large.
You’ve probably decided by now that NixonMcInnes really is a weird cult. But just to reassure you this, like our happy buckets, is totally voluntary. We call it a “church” but intend no disrespect to those real churches out there. And no one is taking notes to use this information for the purpose of control, manipulation or exploitation.
Instead, we simply celebrate each confession of failure. We do this in a very traditional fashion: applause. Clapping. Lots of it and even a few whoops on occasion. A particularly bad (or good?) confession might even get some floor stomping underway. (I sometimes pity our neighbours).
And the result of all this? Well, I wouldn’t want to suggest that we have eradicated the instinctive hiding and covering up of mistakes. We all have egos and protecting them is incredibly human.
But the sessions do feel good. Confessing even a simple mistake feels somehow “rewarding”, and different. And I guess our hope is that little by little these feelings will supplant those perhaps more usual feelings of shame and guilt and furtiveness that surround the hidden mistake. Gradually making it slightly more likely we’ll really start to love our mistakes. To learn from them.
And to see them for what we really believe they are: a way to relate better, more authentically and more honestly with each other, and with our clients.