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Are you afraid of making mistakes?

Are you afraid of making mistakes?
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Don't be. If you really want to learn from your experience and become better at what you do, then embrace failure, learn from it and move on fast. There's too much procrastination around. Too many people who are struck rigid with fear of failure or being wrong. The best way to move forward is to try things out, see if they work, do something differently and, if you get it wrong, consider it a free lesson, learn from it and try again.

At Impact we have built our business globally on experiential learning. We work at our best in the moment, encouraging people to learn by doing, to continually reflect on how they come across to each other and to not be afraid of experimenting with new ways of acting or behaving.

In the past, we have worked occasionally with Simon Woodroffe, the founder of Yo Sushi. He talks about how many successful entrepreneurs recognise that you have to fail many times before you succeed. I remember him saying how he would celebrate each failure as it was all part of his journey towards success and that the more times he failed the more he was guaranteed to succeed! His motto is CAN I - Constant And Never Ending Innovation.

Here at Impact, we like to celebrate success as much as any other organisation. We learnt at a very early stage, however, that creating a real culture of innovation means encouraging people to be bold and allowing them to make mistakes in the quest for development and growth. You can't do this if people are frightened of getting things wrong.

I think we have managed to create a culture of continuous improvement by encouraging experimentation and learning from our mistakes.

Which brings me to the real point of this blog: "The Silver Screw"

Silver screw

This is my favourite time of the year at Impact. We organise an interactive week-long conference - "One Impact" - where all of our global people actively participate in sessions that are designed to share ideas and best practice across our business. As I am writing this, there are consultants around me meeting face-to-face and virtually to discuss topics such as learning mapping, positive psychology, our VUCA questionnaire and appreciative enquiry, to name but a few. All of them will be talking from the heart about what they have learned from their experiences over the year. We also have sales people and client managers meeting to discuss how cold calling is dead and how to go about selling to more senior buyers by swimming upstream. Every topic will be laced with what we have learned from getting it wrong as well as right.

We have a celebratory meal, a couple of parties and a day of presentations and awards celebrating notable events and true acts of inspiration that have happened throughout the year, but by far the best and most popular event is the annual awarding of the "Silver Screw". The "Silver Screw" is awarded for conspicuousness in the line of duty. Or, in simple terms, to the most notable "cock up" of the year!

During 2014, whenever someone has made an embarrassing mistake, said the wrong thing at the wrong time, sent an email to the wrong address or done something that in hindsight was just plain stupid…the mistake will be met with a secret nomination with supporting evidence. Nominations are sent through to last year's award holder, who compiles the final running order and announces this year's winner.

The "Silver Screw" award (a broken propellor) has been part of our culture for well over 25 years now. This year's winner will have no idea who she or he is until last year's holder of the silver screw takes to the stage and starts the great annual celebration of mistakes.

If you win it three times then the rules are that you keep it in perpetuity - a lasting demonstration of your ability to fail fast and move on. I've won it twice and I'm genuinely worried about this year as I know I have a few good nominations in the pot.

Some of my past heroic cock ups include:

  • Interviewing someone for a consultants role when he was simply returning some equipment to a friend
  • Spending an hour in a meeting with a group of Thai accountants, finalising a joint venture agreement and as we said goodbye, asking them to pass on my best regards to my good friend, one of their colleagues, who turned out to be the person I was actually shaking hands with!

Nominations for others have included:

  • A consultant who went to the bathroom in his hotel bedroom in the middle of the night and took the wrong door, to find himself locked out of his room, in the corridor, naked!
  • A couple of sales people who thought they were visiting the Dublin Pork Authority for a sales meeting - we were working with the Pig Improvement Company at the time so it could have been a referral. They arrived only to find themselves, with a presentation heavily based on our experience of working with pig companies, standing outside the offices of the Dublin Port Authority.

OK, I know, it's all a bit light hearted, but in a company that is moving fast, innovating and responding quickly to markets, people and services, you don't want a culture of fear of failure. So celebrate it and see what happens.

Fail fast, learn from it and move on.

David Williams is Impact's Founder and CEO.