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Benjamin Drury - February 2, 2016

Take away the fear of failure and free people to be brilliant!

If you want your team to be more successful and productive, then take away the fear of failure.  Let them know they can fail without retribution.  Let them know they can get it wrong and you’ll still have their back.  You’ll still believe in them.

The thing is that in order to free people to do their best work, they need to be free to do their worse work too.  They need to be free to fail, in order to be free to succeed.  The reason is what motivates people more than money is the autonomy and mastery.

  • Autonomy: the freedom to direct our own work.
  • Mastery: the desire to become good at something.

In order to give people autonomy you have to be prepared to let then get it wrong.  Autonomy means leaving it up to the individual to decide how to solve problems and do tasks.  Sometimes the way they choose to do it wont work.  But most of the time their solution will be brilliant.  You can’t have one without the other.  Controlling people leads to mediocre solutions at best.

And in order to have mastery, you have to be prepared for people to be rubbish.  If a person is going to get good at something they have to go through a stage of being rubbish and looking stupid. They have to start with the basics. The simple. The mediocre.

If you can’t overcome this fear of them failing and looking stupid your team will never do anything new and never get great at any anything.

When people are free to do their worse work and try new things and step into doing things that they perhaps haven’t done before, knowing that if they get it wrong it’s going to be OK, then they will perform better, make less mistakes and you will see both productivity and engagement go up.

It all sounds counter intuitive, but there’s research to back it up. Take a look at Daniel Pinks book “Drive: The suprising truth about what motivates us” or view the RSA talk.  The research shows that money only motivates for non cerebral menial tasks – the more you pay the better the outcome for those tasks.  But once the tasks involves rudimentary cognitive skill, the more you pay the poorer the outcome of that tasks.

To get the best from people give them autonomy and mastery, which means releasing them from the fear of failure.

Have you had failures?  When have you done you’re best work?  What sort of culture did you thrive in?

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