There it was, an actual bad score. I couldn’t deny it. Not just a bad score, a bad score someone had given one of my sessions. Other than the one bad mark there was a mix of good and great scores too. Until then I had never gotten one of these before. I couldn’t tear my eyes away. For a bit I felt hurt, angry, even embarrassed. What a bummer, after all of that work, hours and hours and hours of prep, someone really thought it was bad?
Failure can throw us. Failure can cloud our perceptions of the truth. We tend to focus on the negative. A hundred people love the work, our association, a new product or an event but it’s the one that doesn’t that we focus on. I had a strong desire to put the evaluation away and just forget about it – forever. I didn’t. I reread it all top to bottom and then again. The second time around with slightly more time to be slightly more objective I found one comment with a great idea that helped me add far more value to my session.
A few weeks later I gave that presentation again and this time the evaluations were glowing. We all intensely dislike failure. Our risk adverse caveman brains are telling us to run away, run away. However for most modern problems it is better to welcome the feedback, examine it and figure out how to improve.
Organizations do this too. Perhaps you have worked for organizations with cultures that review and examine failure, add it to the institutional knowledge, and have another go at it incorporating the lessons learned. And perhaps you have worked at organizations where failure is not only NOT learned from, it is hidden. Failure is undesirable, sometimes tragic even. But if we are trying new things, failure is inevitable. The key is to notice when that instinct to bury it kicks in and instead shine a light on it. This is a brave but difficult thing to do. Sometimes when we learn from our failure that learning becomes a shining life or business lesson. Perhaps even a lesson that leads us on to a far bigger opportunity.