As we prepare for All College Day, a day of stage-setting for the year, I am struck by this quote from Sandy Shugart, President of Valencia College, in "Leadership in the Crucible of Work":
"Failure is unavoidable if the work has any real value or takes any risks at all."
Think for a moment about what we as individuals would not have achieved if we were unwilling to fail - walking, talking, riding a bicycle, pursuing an education, falling in love, having children - the most basic achievements and developments in our lives came with the ready prospect of and in many cases the reality of multiple failures at various stages. We needed to risk failure in order to grow and advance. Failure in most cases was in fact what led to our eventual success.
Now think about how we might apply this same equation to our work and our organizational growth, development, and success. Might it also be the case here that if we learn to fear failure less we can learn to take risks toward our success? Returning to Sandy Shugart:
"What a difference it would make if we went into our projects understanding that failure is part of the lifecycle of our work."
Here Dr. Shugart is not arguing that we plan to fail or that we fail to plan. He is arguing, as I am, that we should plan in a manner that maximizes our chance for success (e.g., good research, good measurement tools, good use of data at all stages of a project), but that we should not fear learning that can come from failure along the way. To be a culture of success, in other words, we need to embrace the idea that we may fail - and we need to not punish failure, but learn from it.
The recent relocation of our nursing & allied health programs serves as good example of this dynamic. As anyone close to that project knows, there were multiple opportunities for the project to fail - more, perhaps, than the likelihood of success. And yet we kept taking steps toward making it a reality. And while the success of the move in perpetuity is not assured, early indications are that we will accomplish our aims of expanded capacity in a state of the art learning environment.
I am hopeful as we continue to build action plans associated with our new strategic directions that we continue this spirit of thinking big, planning well, and embracing the prospect of failure as part of our planning work. Put differently, I am hopeful that we continue to become a culture where calculated risk is embraced and where no idea is rejected on the face of it before we have time to fully explore its potential.
We should be a place where "we've never done it that way" and "we've always done it that way" are simply factual observations and not reasons. We should be a place where everyone feels able to contribute in ways small and large to the success of the college and of our students, and where we see and celebrate those linkages between our various roles and contributions to our overall direction. We should be a place not afraid to fail on the way to our success.
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