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Ben Holmes

Samsung UK

Head of Display

Read more from Ben Holmes

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Learning culture: Why risk taking and failure are essential to progress

An element of risk is essential to fostering a learning culture.

We've all seen the hashtag - #Fail. It’s become a label that no one wants to be associated with. In today’s social media-fuelled world, #winning tends to be what we all want to be striving for – and rightly so, otherwise what’s the point in developing ourselves to be the best that we possibly can?

Public shaming of the word ‘fail’ has created a culture and mindset where slipping up simply isn’t an option. This might in part be down to the fact that we don’t often get a chance to make a second impression. Once we hit ‘send’ or ‘go’ we’re totally committed, leaving zero room for failure and second chances. This fear of retribution is concerning. Surely one of the ways we learn is by having the occasional slip-up?

The obvious answer is yes, but this situation is exacerbated by the fact that in this digital age, there really is nowhere to hide. Actions usually have consequences and we’re more self-obsessed than ever before. This notion is massively conflicting when trying to create a learning culture that is given the freedom to flourish.

Failure is not the enemy

The process of learning is dynamic. It evolves, has a pulse and can accelerate and decelerate at the whim of individuals. It’s not a static process. Nor is it linear. It’s precisely because of this that it’s mind-blowing to think there is no room for failure in the learning process. Let’s be clear: failure is certainly not the enemy.

I would argue that not allowing failure could be an impediment to learning and creativity to take flight. If we’re always going to be afraid to fail then we breed a culture of people who are risk-averse and self-conscious. This, in my mind, stifles the learning process and means creativity and innovation simply cannot occur.

Nothing is permanent anymore. Attention spans are short and learning is an iterative process.

To create is to be seen (by yourself and others) and to be ‘seen’ is absolutely terrifying. However, we need to think smarter and channel fear into positive energy that fuels learning and creativity. There are so many tools out there to aid this process and we should not be afraid of embracing new technologies.

Take risks to unlock creativity

As a business, we have always tried to push ourselves to the absolute limit. Our brand philosophy ‘do what you can’t’ couldn’t be more perfect in propelling people and businesses towards unrelenting ambition and success. We have the tools and technologies available today to enable businesses to make mistakes safely and conceive new ideas in a way we’ve never been able to before. By ensuring the process of learning and creativity is fluid, collaborative and open-minded, we can help to address the fear factor that many people may feel, either in the workplace or place of education.

Nothing is permanent anymore. Attention spans are short and learning is an iterative process. We have to be willing to take risks to unlock creativity and create a learning culture that is more subliminal and forgiving.

Culture is king

This doesn’t happen overnight, far from it. Cultural change can take ages to be fully ingrained in a business or institution but it is worth the effort. The fact is that a lot of workplaces simply don’t tolerate failure. For many people, risk-taking or failing is not part of the job description – and with good reason!

Building a culture where risk-taking and failure are not frowned upon but instead invite learning has to be the future.

Employers need to ensure that the learning environment they shape is safe enough to accommodate failure. A lot of leaders are quick to punish and slow to forgive when mistakes are made. This could have a cataclysmic impact on the cultural and creative DNA of organisations. Creativity thrives in situations where boundaries can be pushed, rules can be broken and experiments can take place.

Managing this tension

There are a number of ways to instil a more (cautiously) risk-taking culture which allows ideas and learning to happen more organically:

  1. Open your tech – businesses and organisations should be ditching their paper flipcharts for more sophisticated tech which is more accommodating to failure – if you get it wrong, you can simply touch the screen and start again.
  2. Open your mind – it’s not just about knowing what you know, it’s about knowing what you don’t know in equal measure. We need to be open to new ideas, diverse perspectives and new opinions – it may seem frightening but it will create a thriving and buoyant learning environment.
  3. Open your eyes – don’t underestimate the power of visual stimuli as you go about furthering your learning and creativity. Absorb things around you, focus your lens on the unexpected and learn from past fails to achieve winning solutions.

Building a culture where risk-taking and failure are not frowned upon but instead invite learning has to be the future. As Mark Zuckerberg once said: “The biggest risk is not taking any risk…in a world that's changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”

Interested in this topic? Read Personal development: how to fail every day.

Author Profile Picture
Ben Holmes

Head of Display

Read more from Ben Holmes

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