Failing Happy: Reflections from Ashridge

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In December 2013, I had the great privilege of attending an immersive experience facilitated by Steve Chapman on Creative Practices in leadership.  Being that December 2015 has come and gone, and I have spent the last few days reflecting as we have rolled into January 2016, I realized that this was a story worth sharing, because it is about "Failing Happy," especially as I look forward to some of the new things I may try this year!

Here I retell the experience from Ashridge, taken from the book, Can Scorpions Smoke? Creative Adventures in the Corporate World:

Before I came to Ashridge, I participated in a simulation exercise where I volunteered to be the CEO.  I failed miserably.  By the time we made it to Ashridge for our workshops, my heart had gone through a lot of emotions.  I cried because of how I let my colleagues down.  I felt the need to defend myself and quickly recognized I really couldn't.  I was afraid I was going to lose my friendships.  I felt humiliated.  I knew that the simulation could have gone either way but I wanted it to be successful.  I also knew that, no matter what the outcome would be, I just needed to do it anyway.  I needed to get to know what I was afraid of and it felt pretty safe to do it in a simulation. 

I didn't realize the intensity that would come from the exercise though, in particular hearing others express themselves about how I performed in the CEO role.  I had to listen and accept the responsibility for the ways in which I just simply failed.  When we got to Ashridge, I felt even more open to what I would learn and when the words Fail Happy appeared on the wall, I felt tears come to my eyes.  I had failed miserably in front of my colleagues in many ways just a few days earlier, but now I was able to realize that the risk was worth taking because I had actually failed happy.  However, I did not have a huge smile on my face and say, "Wow, that was so great!  Did you see how I screwed that up, hurt your feelings, and made a mess of things?!!! Woo!!!"

No, my failing happy was different.  I was happy because I took a risk in front of my class, not really knowing the outcome.  I was happy because I learned really important lessons.  I was happy because I had a great opportunity to listen to how people felt about the experience.  I failed happy because I needed to grow.  I failed happy because I was the recipient of an amazing experience, watching people's emotions, listening to their questions, and knowing what it feels like to really have to own when you just don't know what to do.  It is one thing to talk about the concept of failing happy, but it is only through experiencing it and taking the time to make sense of it, even through a simulation, that you really begin to get what it is all about.