Fail Forward into the New Year! 🎉


It might seem odd to kick off the new year with a focus on failure, but here’s why we think it can be helpful to prime ourselves for failure amidst the many promises, resolutions, and goals we want to set for 2023:

If you are someone who has set a New Years Resolution, then you might not be shocked by this research. It seems failing our resolutions is the norm, and not the exception. 

So, what if we did something different this year? What if we resolved to change our own relationship with failure, instead of trying to avoid it at all costs and cling to an idealistic “new year, new me”?

Just because we may not enjoy failure, does not mean we cannot learn from it. Bill Gates said “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” 

Overcoming the fear of failure is often necessary for learning to occur. And more importantly, how we choose to perceive failure also dictates how we experience it. 

What might happen if we reframed the word FAIL to mean:

  • First
  • Attempt
  • In
  • Learning? 

Perhaps it could help us avoid falling into the mental traps of self-loathing, harsh judgment, and the shame and blame game. 

Thomas Edison was a pro at reframing failure in regard to his many attempts at inventing the lightbulb. He is known to have said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” 😜

It’s important to learn to expect, embrace, and even celebrate failure when it happens because it is all part of the human experience for living and learning. 

Here are 3 tips for how to leverage failure as a learning experience designer and facilitator: 

💡 1. Before the Session: Plan for failure 

With any session design, we know that things can go wrong. Perhaps less people show up on the day of your event, or the target audience is different than you expected. 

Plan for failure instead of hoping it does not happen. Have a risk management plan in place that you can leverage, with alternatives for different scenarios. 

Ask yourself questions in advance such as:

  • How would this activity work with a different number of participants?
  • What is the worst case scenario that could happen? How do I plan for that?
  • What might be an alternative exercise to fall back on in this scenario?

With answers to these questions pre-planned, you will be much more able to adapt in the moment and deliver more meaningful experiences.

💡 2. During the Session: Role model and embrace failure for psychological safety 

Failing makes us human. While it might be one of the most vulnerable things we do to acknowledge and admit our failures to others, it actually makes people want to connect with us further. By role modeling failure gracefully, we create a deeper sense of psychological safety. In fact, “attitude to risk and failure” is one of the four main domains of psychological safety according to Dr. Amy Edmondson.

We’ve learned that participants often remember more how the facilitator handled failure in the moment than what the actual failure was. If they see you struggling with tech issues and getting flustered, that makes it awkward and uncomfortable for everyone. Instead, by calmly acknowledging the issue and even laughing at the mistake, it sends a direct message that failing is a normal part of the learning process and gives your audience permission to take risks and fail here too. 

Since f*ck up fridays and failure parties have become a corporate trend over the last few years, you might consider helping your audience appreciate the failures and mistakes they have made and what they’ve learned from them. Check out “Rampage of Appreciation” from the Play on Purpose library and give it the framing of what they appreciate about the times they tried and failed. (You can read the step by step directions in a previous blog here.) 

💡 3. After the Session: Embrace failure as feedforward 

Experience designers know that the meat of the learning happens not just from doing an activity, but from taking time for reflection afterwards. It’s creating space to reflect on what was meaningful for each person that often leads to the most Aha moments!

The same is true for debriefing entire sessions as facilitators. If you end up failing during an event, the important thing is not just to focus on the failure itself, but the learning takeaways you can use for future sessions. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this? How can I improve next time?”

Remember: the only true failure is one we do not learn from and continue to make over and over again.

Ready for a meta moment?

You can apply these 3 tools for yourself in case you end up failing your New Year’s resolutions:

  • Plan for failure and design your 2023 goals around that.
  • Reach out and connect with others you trust when you fail, it instantly lessens the shame we may feel. 
  • Draw out the learning takeaways and create a new plan of action moving forward.

Fail forward with us into the New Year! 🥳

🎉 Join our upcoming Virtual Connection Lab on the topic of Failure on January 18 at 11am PST | 2pm EST with Romy Alexandra, Learning Experience Designer and Experiential Learning Trainer. 🎉

In this experiential session, you will engage in 2-3 new exercises to support you to reframe and embrace failure moving into the New Year. 

Use coupon code “FAILUREBLOG” to register for FREE if it’s your first time joining a Virtual Connection Lab. Sign up here or click below.👇

Sign up here!