I recently wrote on this blog about how great it is to work in a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE). In my infinite experience to date (two whole months at Actionable), new insights into this work culture have revealed themselves to me. It’s partly related to ROWE, and partly related to Actionable working hard to practice what we preach—creating inclusive and engaging environments through candid conversations. Part of the culture at Actionable is a willingness to embrace experimentation. And a part of working with a highly collaborative team is being available to new ideas, and pivoting strategy as required. To make this work, Actionable embraces failure.
At a recent meeting with my managers, we got talking about parts of the business that I am interested in working on, about new challenges and opportunities I can see on the horizon, and about the influence I will ultimately have on shaping the direction of my role. The message I walked away with was this: “Put your hand up as much as you want, either to ask questions, or to jump in on the projects that interest you.” I don’t have to be perfect or experienced to work on projects that excite me, which means that the scope of my role is limited only by my own interest and enthusiasm. To succeed in this environment, I have to be willing to be wrong, and wrong often. But to be involved in what interests me, all I have to do is be excited to play.
Many of us, myself included, associate the word failure with shame. We don’t want to fail, and when we do, we want to hide it from those around us. To me, the word failure conjures images of complete and utter disaster (the stuff of stress dreams/nightmares). In reality, most failures are small, with minimal impact on the big picture, and they offer opportunities for learning and redirection.
Sometimes I let a typo slip by, and while that stings for a minute, I can fix it and move on. We are constantly working out new ways to promote our content—sometimes they work, and when they don’t, we just talk about why we think that could be, and change up our tactics the next time. As we continue to achieve results, and take on more and more ambitious projects, our failures will be larger and more complicated. But we have an established culture of embracing and working through failure as a team. So we will face those challenges when we meet them.
Accountability is an important element of ROWE, and part of the Actionable culture is a disdain for finger pointing. We are all adults who are capable of owning our own projects, and our own mistakes, and we can recognize that assigning blame is never productive, especially when trying to overcome a failure. Squabbling over whose “fault” a failure is will not fix the problem, and it’s simply not a good look for adult professionals.
One of my colleagues recently wrote about how change can be scary and messy, yet it is also essential. None of us are perfect, and uncertainty and volatility are now unavoidable characteristics of the modern workplace. Embracing failure and being open to experiments are essential for success in this landscape.
Last week, I was able to meet my colleagues in person, at a staff event in King City. It was exciting to be in the same room with the people I’ve been working with remotely for the past few months, as well as to meet the team members that I don’t work with regularly.
Though the schedule was jam packed with four days of discussions, framing, strategizing, and some truly hilarious moments, I walked away from the retreat feeling refreshed and reenergized. Actionable is a truly collaborative team, capable of generating a hundred great ideas a minute, with the foresight to challenge, poke holes, and pull back, in order to make the most impact with the least amount of work. We work hard and fast, and to accomplish that, we have to be comfortable with failure.
Not all great ideas end up generating revenue. What sounds brilliant in a brainstorming session may be a total flop in the real world. If we were afraid of failure, we would get paralyzed.
One of the most surprising things to me about the retreat, was hearing the stories of learning from past challenges and failures. It was surprising because I joined Actionable at a moment when it seemed as though everything was perfectly thought out and well-executed. Learning about the history of experiencing and embracing failure was inspiring: my colleagues are strong, smart, innovative people, who don’t curl into a ball and give up when things get hard. I’m proud to be among their ranks. They were able to learn from those failures to create the incredible company that I joined two months ago.
We are all going to experience failure. The frequency and severity of those failures will fluctuate over time and the course of our lives, but failure is an unavoidable reality. Being able to acknowledge, learn from, and move past failure, is a mark of maturity and professionalism that we should all aspire to embody.