“We don’t passively forget that something is scary.
We actively learn that it isn’t anymore.”
– Stanford Professor Robert Sapolsky, Behave
We aren’t born afraid of failure.
We learn to become afraid of it.
Why does this matter?
Because, according to IDEO’s innovation experts David Kelley and Tom Kelley,
“fear of failure […] is the single biggest obstacle
people face to creative success”.
This is one of the most important issues of our time.
Because creativity and innovative problem-solving are the only ways
we, as a species, will evolve beyond our outdated systems, structures and
patterns of history repeating itself.
So what can we do about this?
To ‘actively learn’ that mistakes aren’t scary means we have to shift the way we SEE them.
When we see something as helpful instead of harmful,
we are more likely to approach it.
“The difference between greatness and mediocrity is often how an individual views a mistake” – Nelson Boswell
To actively learn that mistakes aren’t scary
we need to know what a mistake actually is –
NOT the meaning we’ve learned to make about it,
but what it is actually is, on a bio-mechanical level.
Mistakes lead to electrochemical activity in the brain
called the ERN response.
This ONLY happens when we make a mistake.
It does NOT happen when we get an answer right.
In fact, we don’t even need to realize we’ve made a mistake
in order for this ERN activity to happen.
When we understand how the brain learns, this totally makes sense…
If we’re answering a question correctly,
It means we’ve already activated
the neural circuitry needed to perform that task.
Let me repeat that…
Getting an answer right,
or doing something well is
just repeating neural activity that has already happened many times.
So, the ‘re-frame’ or ‘mindset shift’ is:
a) Mistakes literally (‘neurobiologically’) grow your brain.
b) A mistake means you’re a performer ‘in the arena’.
Not a bystander.
Not a critic.
Not just passively posting a ‘like’ or an emoji.
You are actually, actively, sparking new activity that is literally growing your brain.
c) A mistake is therefore a sign of growth and opportunity,
In your own life, organization, school, or classroom…
whatever you collectively choose
to reward, to praise, to notice*,
becomes a group-mindset.
(*in fact – there’s science that shows us testosterone helps amplify what we collectively reward and value. Testosterone is not inherently an ‘aggressive’ hormone, it’s just that is what we have socially rewarded for a very long time)… more on that later. Read Robert Sapolsky’s book, Behave to find out more).
(click the image to download this as a pdf!)
When we choose to value things like mistakes, effort,
and even being someone who is ‘outside of the herd’,
we create ‘Psychological Safety’
to do those things we’re normally afraid of.
According to Frederik Pferdt – Google’s Chief Innovation Evangelist,
(who I heard as a keynote speaker at the d.confestival in Berlin a few weeks ago),
‘Psychological Safety’ is one of Google’s keys to foster innovation.
The safer we feel about something, the more likely we are to approach it.
That’s how our brain works.
If we feel safe about making a mistake,
we’ll more likely try something we’ve never done before.
Re-frame mistakes by acknowledging what they actually are,
NOT the story that’s been passed down from previous generations.
According to the laws of nature,
mistakes are related to growth and evolution,
not weakness or inferiority.
They are the very ingredient of anything NEW.
The more deeply you get this, the more sincere you’ll be when you tell people (including yourself) to try something new even if you might fail.
Ok… So that’s a piece of the puzzle — a new way of seeing mistakes.
But then what?
Just keep saying mistakes are great without making any adjustments?
Of course not!
We then need to adjust, pivot, refine and try something new.
In next month’s article, I’ll give you key #2 to doing that NEW thing that moves us out of repeating our past and into a mode of creating a new reality.
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