Failure's Okay

Failure’s OK – Everyone’s Doing It!

One of the great mysteries of the 21st century. 40% of organisational budgets are allocated to projects (whether we call them projects or programs). Our education around managing projects accredits the structure, science, tools and admin. Yet people wanting the outcome are dissatisfied with the result 85% of the time.

Why hasn’t there been an outcry?

Why are people satisfied with being dissatisfied? Satisfied to the point of allowing the projects for which they’re responsible to be done the same way over and over again? Even when these very people know there are better ways. Even when they have access to the better ways. Even when they know in their bones that the better ways are more likely to succeed than the orthodoxy.

People are more comfortable stewarding failure than risking success.


I think I’ve worked it out. As long as everyone else is doing it, failing and being dissatisfied, it’s ok. As long as you can point to the indisputable fact that you followed the rules, the project used known methods and tools and all the reports and paperwork are in place, you’re protected. Protected from the organisational consequences of failure.  And that’s good… yes? Maybe. Clearly you can be promoted and rewarded, to a point, for doing things that way. Clearly it’s safer to stay in the crowd and clearly it’s easier to go with the flow than to do something different. And it’s kind of nice to be in a cohort of people feeling helpless but safe in the knowledge that failure is ok – everyone’s doing it.

In the end it seems failing the same way everyone else does is ok, after all failure is pretty much assured and expected by everyone around you. While trying to succeed by doing things differently? That’s risky.

Most people prefer to fail reliably than risk succeeding.

It’s the people who take the risks though who win the bigger prizes. People who say failing in the crowd just doesn’t make sense. They say ‘I’ll do it differently’. They also say ‘if I fail I’ve lost nothing except being part of a crowd I don’t want to be part of anyway, but when I succeed I stand out, I get noticed, and I get the opportunities I want’. These are the people who lay the foundation for organisational success. These are the people who get to the top. These are the people who are rewarded with prized roles and lauded for their contribution.

Everyone in every organization know who these people are. Sometimes called the ‘go to’ people and sometimes just known by name.

Every single person who makes a real difference braves breaking from the pack at some stage.

What do you think? Am I onto something?