Dr Isla Kapasi recently chaired the enterprise panel event titled “Failure as a learning tool”, discussing the topic of failure with a range of panel members including Fraser Allen (Allen Comms), Jonathan Straight and Steve Baker, Baker & Co Accountants and Sarah Lloyd (Year in Enterprise student and founder of the social enterprise Families Against Murder). The panel event was extremely successful, with Isla facilitating discussions with our panellists sharing some of their own experiences of failure throughout their careers.
Fraser kicked off the discussion, sharing an experience where a colleague had forgotten to send off an important proposal. He reflected that although the situation was very unfortunate, it highlighted to him that such responsibility should not have been placed solely on one individual.
Jonathan suggested that it is vital to display hope as a leader of a team in a situation such as this and to be clear with the team what the actions to resolve the situation are. Steve went on to discuss how communication as a leader is vital and suggested that having regular meetings and reviews to discuss issues within the company can not only help to prevent failure but can make a company much more efficient at dealing with crisis situations.
Failure is not really a failure if you learn something from it.
Sarah discussed her experiences as a leader and proposed that great leadership is not only about clear communication but also knowing your limits and when to take a step back. In the past, Sarah has worked closely in supporting families throughout murder trials, however found the emotive content of the trials affected her judgement. Therefore, she had to make the difficult decision to take a step back from the work which she was doing.
The panel then went on to discuss the ways in which we can both reflect upon and learn from failure – utilising failure as a learning tool. Fraser has recently been involved in a project in Edinburgh; the Library of Mistakes. This library is open to the general public and facilitates a collection of books reflecting on the “mistakes” throughout our history. Fraser noted that although it is important to reflect upon mistakes previously made, mistakes do not always cause huge damage. On the contrary, mistakes have led to various discoveries and can often facilitate innovation; for example, the discovery of plastic was accidental.
Steve also advised that we should not only reflect upon mistakes throughout history, but also question what is thought to be historically right. Corporate knowledge is often embedded throughout the processes and procedures within a company making it difficult for companies to change the ways in which they do things, however if there is a more effective way of achieving success for the company then this should be considered.
Lastly, our panellists considered how failure can appear differently within various industries and policies. Fraser suggested that as a creative individual working within a creative industry, he has learnt that although creative people naturally prefer to hire other creatives, it is vital that they also hire business-minded individuals who can ensure the success of the business.
Jonathan highlighted failure within policies. If a director has a company that goes bankrupt, policy may prevent them from being a director again. However, having failed the director surely possesses the skills to prevent failure from occurring again.
The discussion ended by accepting that although failure is often unpleasant, it exists throughout business and within our society. Whilst strong leadership and communication are effective tools in dealing with failure, in the words of Jonathan, “Failure is not really a failure if you learn something from it”.