Skip to content
All posts

How Failing Forward Can Cultivate Success

Capture Lessons Learned So You Wont Make the Same Mistake Twice


As a coach, I've noticed that one of the things that holds people back quite often is the fear of failure. People don't want to experiment. They don't want to take risks. They don't want to admit it when things haven't succeeded the way they planned. So they duck and they dodge failure, and they only do what they already know how to do. It's very self-limiting. I'd like you to think about ways you can nurture within your team and within yourself opportunities for people to fail forward.

In fact, how can you create a playground for failure where people are willing and able, and not disproportionately punished for failing? You know, failure is the vehicle that you have to get into if you're ever going to reach that destination of success. Failure is the teacher that we all need if we're ever going to improve. Failure is not something to be ashamed of. In fact, I just absolutely refuse to worry about blame and shame.

Failure is the best textbook you can ever get your hands on. There's no better place to learn than in those places where you might fail. So if that's true, if we need to fail and if we can become better by failing, well, then we need to learn how to make the most of our failures, how to repurpose the mistakes that we make, how to use them to our advantage, how to learn from them even when we've done pretty good.

What can we find within the pretty good that would make us even better? This is an incredible workplace culture to create and it all starts with you. You have to be willing, ready and able to role model what I'm describing. I could go on and on for hours about all the mistakes I've made in my gardening over the past few years. But I find it's not all that productive to dwell on my mistakes. I don't waste time blaming or shaming or beating myself up when I make mistakes.

Instead, I look for the learning opportunity within them. What could I have done differently? What will I try next time? What resources could I have consulted? Maybe that helped me prevent future mistakes too. Let me show you just a few of the mistakes that I've made. Carrots, I'm in year number three. Year one of growing carrots, I didn't prune them. I didn't thin them out when they started to emerge from the straw bales. And that meant that all of my carrots were sort of deformed.

They didn't have enough room to grow under the straw. They were bumping into each other. And so I had lots of squat, misshapen carrots. They still tasted great, but they weren't nearly as high yield as they could have been. Year two in the straw bales, I spread the carrots out appropriately and they were pretty good. They did well. But, you know, you have to plant carrots quite early in the season and straw bales take time to break down.

So although they were the right shape, they weren't as long as I thought they could be. So this year, I am attempting to grow carrots in containers of dirt. I'm still growing some in the straw bales because I want to make a comparison. I thin them out appropriately and hopefully, I'll have all the right conditions. Oh, something else I did this year: I didn't plant all the carrots at the very same time. I gave myself an opportunity to have multiple harvests of carrots. That way, I think I can enjoy them a little bit more and not have to try to freeze and eat and give away as many carrots all at once.

I also have a situation this year that I haven't figured out what I'll do differently next year. Maybe some of you will have some advice for me. These poor straggly little plants over here on the left hand side, those are sesame plants. I wanted to grow and harvest sesame seeds to add to my herbs and spices.

I've got a pretty good collection of things that I've grown. The poppy seeds are doing great - the poppy plants - but the sesame seeds never quite got off the ground. The sesame plants, I didn't even transplant them because this is the best they ever looked. It was downhill from here. I think it might be that I kept them too wet, but I'm not sure. So I've got some research to do. I'll do that in the off season, and hopefully next year I'll have better success growing sesame plants.

I've experimented a lot with tomato plants here on the right hand side. What I'm doing differently this year with the big boy, the big ones that grow fast, I'm staking them early but not tightly because I want them to have room to grow quickly. I've used bigger, better tomato cages, so they've got more support. I've put milk cartons in so that I can give deep root watering. And I think because I've learned those lessons along the way, I think this year's tomato crop might be the biggest and best yet! Although I should tell you that I have planted considerably fewer tomato plant, because last year's harvest was absolutely overwhelming.

I am learning some lessons too, about my herb garden here in the middle. I had heard with straw bale that you can plant things closer together than you would in dirt. And so what you see here are three rows. On the left is basil, in the middle is oregano. And on the right hand side is parsley. The parsley and the basil, they did great. I was harvesting those about every other day, and dehydrating and drying them, so that I had dried herbs to last all year round. In fact, I gave some away last year, too, but the oregano never quite got to that same level of productivity. And I think it's because oregano wants more room. Oregano doesn't want to be in the middle in a tight row.As you can see, it actually chose on its own to only sprout up about every other plant where the other ones are denser. So this year, I've given oregano more room to grow.

I learned the hard way that you can, in fact, grow way too many hot peppers. And it means something when it says it's very, very hot. It really is very, very hot, hotter than I wanted for my salsas and pickles. So this year I'm growing a different type of pepper to put into those products.

Here's one of my best lessons: I learned that you can make jam or jelly, rather, out of redbud trees. You harvest the red buds off, this is in early spring. You soak them down so that it's just the tea of the redbuds and you can turn that into a jelly. So I made a lot of redbud jelly because I have lots of redbuds on my property, but my redbud jelly, only about half of it got to the place where it was truly like a jelly.

The rest was too thin. It was more like a syrup. Now you can, if that ever happens to you, you can actually process it all over again and add some more pectin. But I didn't want to do all that work. So it occurred to me, since the stuff was pretty tasty, it occurred to me that it might make a very good simple syrup. And I've been making a special cocktail. It's my own invention and it uses redbud syrup that should have been jelly.

Well, I'd like you to do the same sort of thing. When you make mistakes, what are the lessons you can learn? What are the ways you can recover from your mistakes and do entirely different things than you ever envisioned doing in the first place?

And how can you continually improve time after time again to make things better each and every time?