Skating Lessons: Learning to Fall

I recently took my girls ice skating. Both of them have been skating before and have had a few lessons. After making it around the rink one time, my oldest daughter falls. As I reach down to help her up,  she states “ Mom, I know how to get up, that is the first thing they teach you- is to how to fall and how to get up”.   What an enlightened statement!

Everything we are taught from day one is how to be perfect. Get an 100% on a test, get an A in the subject, be the first in your class, be a star performer. We have school systems that teach to the test, rather than teach to the objective. Nowhere does our systems teach and reward learning to try. We are never taught to fail, much less how to get back up again. 

This creates mindsets  that we need to get it right the first time, every time, which creates conservative and cautious  behaviors. This seems counterintuitive to the skills and attributes of the team members we want on our team. We want individuals to take risks, try something new, and move our companies forward. But this isn’t possible if our reward systems only value the right answer every time. 

I failed in my first attempt to be CFO. It was a miserable place to be – knowing that I tried and I didn’t get it right. And then, after a bit, I brushed myself off and went on to apply the lessons I learned to my next CFO role. It was the most valuable lesson of my career. I learned that I could stretch outside my comfort zone, try something new, fail and still be successful. That lesson allowed me to take smart risks freely going forward because I realized that failing wasn’t such a bad thing – it was just a learning experience.

To help everyone get more comfortable with failing consider this sport analagy – probably the one and only one you will ever see in my blogs.  Every sport player gets cheered when they  hit the objective only a certain percentage of the time: hole in one, home runs, ice skating scores etc,.  These achievements  don’t happen every day even for athletes who practice doing them  every day. Why do we expect our team members to do it right  the first time? Everyone needs some practice, some tries and the comfort zone to know they will be rewarded for the try. Then, and only then, will the odds work in their favor and  the company’s favor.

Consider your reward systems, do you have any that give kudos to someone who tried but maybe did not succeed? How about do you create a safety zone, give air cover to your team members who stretch outside their comfortable zone?  What are you doing to create an environment of learning for individuals to take a smart risk?
  • David DeWolf

    An excellent reminder. Too often we don’t pause long enough to celebrate the wins, or the risks and lessons learned.