Removing the Fear of Failure

I have a little block of aluminum that sits on my desk with the inscription "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?" Although I have an obvious aversion to all parts of business planning that are less than practical, there are appropriate times to ask this question.

We've all heard the expression "okay people, let's brainstorm!" one too many times. There are appropriate times however during the planning process, when you should deliberately remove the constraints that normally hold us back. Usually, the biggest limitation to expanding possibility is the constant presence of all the obstacles that we know from experience are likely to get in our way. Without the occasional use of unfettered brainstorming, those obstacles become self fulfilling.

I often ask clients to ignore the obstacles, issues, and constraints that will prevent them from coming up with their best ideas. There are times when it is better to ignore that voice in your head that is saying "yes, but...". Whenever you think about a vision of how you want your company to look in the future, or when you want to put a specific focus on growth ideas, start off by ignoring the constraints. The really good ideas will abound, and at least a few of them will flourish. Don"t worry about working your way back to reality, because in my experience, people have no problem articulating a long list of reasons why something can't be done.

For a slightly different twist, try prompting your discussion with the opposite of a constraint. If a client asks me to help them find new growth ideas in a particular area, I will often start by saying "if you had $10 million to grow your X, how would you spend it?" This will generate some discussion that would otherwise never happen. With a laundry list of crazy new ideas, you can slowly work your way back to the real world, where you really don't have $10 million to throw at this issue. I can guarantee one thing: the ultimate solution or course of action will be a direct result of the seeds that were planted during the initial brainstorm.

Corporate culture is steeped in an unwavering aversion to failure that places crushing constraints on every real chance for growth. Do what you can in a practical way to challenge that aversion to failure at every turn.