In business, there’s a story that lives on about a mistake once made by Sheryl Sandberg, former Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google – not because of the error itself, but because of co-founder Larry Page’s response.
When Sandberg realised she’d made a bad decision that would cost the company millions of dollars, she went straight to Page and informed him of it. He answered, saying: ‘I’m so glad you made this mistake, because I want to run a company where we are moving too quickly and doing too much, not being too cautious and doing too little. If we don’t have any of these mistakes, we’re just not taking enough risk.’
This anecdote demonstrates that Google does more than tolerate failure. The company understands the importance of creating a safe environment where employees can roll with their ideas, take risks, try new things and feel safe. Now, there’s no reason to get all dreamy-eyed and idealistic about having the freedom to make mistakes. But as managers and leaders in our workplaces, we need to understand that failures are an inevitable by-product of being driven to succeed, and we should respond accordingly.
For example, basketball champion Michael Jordan holds the record for total career points but has said himself: ‘I’ve missed more than 9 000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.’
The fact is, mistakes are merely lessons that we use to improve our ability to succeed in the future. That said, no one lasts at Google, in professional sports or any other ambitious venture if their failures are not overshadowed by their successes. Some mistakes are more avoidable than others, and some lessons are more painful than others.
What’s valuable to remember is that when we fail – as we all certainly will from time to time – we should, get up, brush ourselves off, learn from our mistakes and get back in the game. As Jordan continues, ‘I can accept failure – everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.’
Author: Brett Tromp CA(SA) is CFO of Discovery Health