The Power of Failure

Stephen Tweed | September 14, 2016 | Newsroom
By Jill Scott This morning on my way home from dropping Alexander off at Pre-K, there was a radio spot called something like The Encouraging Word.  The speaker was talking about "Where there is a war there's a way and where there's a way there's a war" and the "war" he was referring to was…

By Jill Scott

edcatmullThis morning on my way home from dropping Alexander off at Pre-K, there was a radio spot called something like The Encouraging Word.  The speaker was talking about “Where there is a war there’s a way and where there’s a way there’s a war” and the “war” he was referring to was failure.  That wasn’t the part that caught my attention.

The part that caught my attention was when he talked about an interview with one of Pixar’s cofounders, Ed Catmull, who put failure into perfect perspective, albeit difficult to adopt.  Catmull essentially expects Pixar employees to make mistakes and encourages them to make many mistakes and make them often.  In fact, he’ll often talk to employees that aren’t making enough mistakes and tell them to make more mistakes.  Catmull fully believes that growth and learning take place following failure and that failure should not be looked at as evil but as a component of success.

After hearing that piece this morning, I came home and did a little more research and found this great article about Catmull’s position on failure on Brain Pickings: “Pixar Cofounder Ed Catmull on Failure and Why Fostering a Fearless Culture is the Key to Groundbreaking Creative Work”. The whole article spoke to me, but this part is what got me thinking the most:

Catmull begins by pointing out that failure, for most of us, is loaded with heavy baggage — a stigma that failure is bad and a sign of weakness, engrained in us early and hard. For all of our aphorisms about the upside of failure and even our most elegant contemplations of failure’s gift, we still carry deep-seated fear and paralyzing aversion to it, to our own detriment. We are so terrified to be wrong and so uncomfortable with the unknown that we often opt for safety and security over breaking new ground. Catmull writes [in Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration]:

We need to think about failure differently. I’m not the first to say that failure, when approached properly, can be an opportunity for growth. But the way most people interpret this assertion is that mistakes are a necessary evil. Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil. They aren’t evil at all. They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new (and, as such, should be seen as valuable; without them, we’d have no originality). And yet, even as I say that embracing failure is an important part of learning, I also acknowledge that acknowledging this truth is not enough. That’s because failure is painful, and our feelings about this pain tend to screw up our understanding of its worth. To disentangle the good and the bad parts of failure, we have to recognize both the reality of the pain and the benefit of the resulting growth.

I know Pixar is a movie creation giant that can probably afford to make mistakes here.  However, the lesson still applies to each of us as individuals and to those running home care companies.

Personal Failure Turned Into Success

I am a work from home mom of 2 active boys (4 and 1).  Alexander is the one in Pre-K and Julius is my demanding 16 month old.  I can’t tell you how many times a failure has been a small step towards something positive for our family.  My biggest struggle of working from home is juggling my kids, my career, my house and my marriage.  I am currently trying to work out a routine that works for the boys and I.  We’ve tried many different routines that have obviously failed for one reason or another.  However, in those trials, I have found bits and pieces of a routine or process that worked well for us.  Now that school has started again we are trying to get everything done upstairs first before coming downstairs for breakfast and leaving for school.  Today, I finally realized that it’s much easier to get Alexander’s clothes out and while he’s getting dressed, I get Julius’ diaper and clothes changed. Then, we’re all ready about the same time to head downstairs.  This is a part of the routine that will now stick. The other methods I was doing last week are gone because they weren’t efficient and caused stress trying to get out the door on time.  Now we can move on to the other pieces of our daily routine and other elements of our family life.

How does this apply to my home care business?

There are countless ways that a small process can affect an overall strategy or operational process.  The first thing that comes to mind is office employees keeping track of their time. Do you have a physical clock-in clock or is it an honor system where they write their time on a timecard? What processes have you tried before that worked or didn’t work to keep their time accurately and then efficiently report it when it’s time to process payroll?

Another popular place to test out strategies is in your marketing efforts.  Have you tried using brochures in the offices of potential referrals?  Did it work or not?  If it didn’t, what pieces of the strategy did work or what did you discover that you can do well that might work for another marketing strategy?  For instance, did you find that it worked well to have a designated marketing person that focused on going out on a schedule to make sure those brochure racks were filled in all of the referral offices?  If so, you can still keep that element in place, just have the marketing person use that time to call-on the person in that office who determines where referrals go.  Or, shift your effort to building relationships with hospitals and rehabilitation facilities so that they become referral partners with you.  The schedule and routine of the marketing person doesn’t change, but the marketing method remains.

Turn Failure Into Growth

I am a believer in failure leading to growth. Sometimes it’s noticeable, sometimes not so much; sometimes it’s immediate, sometimes it takes forever.

What if testing out the marketing strategy with brochure racks fails as a whole, but you end up with one doctor’s office that becomes a great referral source. That referral source directly leads to growth of your bottom line and the successful elements of that strategy lead to ideas of other strategies to test.

Think about strategies you are working on right now – recruiting caregivers, caregiver retention, referral marketing, social media and digital marketing, or networking in the community.  What’s working?  What’s not working?  But most importantly, what would you like to try out to see if it helps grow your business?  My bet is that you are holding back because you are scared of failing…so STOP being scared and go for it! Get creative!

If you’re a home care employee that has an idea that you would like to see your company try out…I challenge you to go to your boss and talk to them about it. You just might have the next breakthrough strategy that helps your company reach the next level!

Lastly, why not come to one of our Field Trips and learn from successful home care companies what failures they have learned and grown from?  We’d love to see you and give you the opportunity to brainstorm with other attendees on ideas to take back to your company to try out.

Stephen Tweed
Stephen Tweed, CSP, began his journey as a business strategist in home health care in 1982. Today, Stephen is among the top thought leaders in Home Care strategy and management. He has worked with top 5% companies from across the US. He is a sought after speaker at from national and state association events.

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