Embracing failure

Early in the second half in Saturday’s rugby match between Ireland and New Zealand, Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale receives the ball in his own half. These are the world’s top 2 teams, the scores are tight and the match could go either way. In front of Stockdale is the 2m tall Kieran Reid and beyond that open space, however behind him is also space which leaves him vulnerable if he makes a mistake. Stockdale tries a risky kick over Reid but he leaps high and knocks the ball down and beyond Stockdale. The crowd hold their breath, Reid is one of the world’s best. A double World Cup winner and captain of the All Blacks. All he has to do is gather the ball and run to the line to score potentially match winning points. Un-characteristically he fumbles it and a sigh of relief echoes around the ground.

Fast forward 5 minutes. Stockdale is this time in the New Zealand half. The scores are still tight when he receives the ball with the even taller Brodie Retallick in front of him. The scenario looks familiar. Space in front of Stockdale if he can get the ball past Retallick and space behind which leaves him vulnerable if he makes a mistake. What does he do? He tries the chip again … this time it is a bit higher, he sprints round the New Zealand defence, gathers the ball and runs to the goal line to score the match winning try.

Now think about some organisations that you know. What would the response to that first error have been? Indeed, would that sort of move even have been ‘allowed’ in the first place?

A frequent theme when I’m coaching teams in business is the need to be more innovative in pursuit of better results. That typically leads us into a discussion about the behaviours that get rewarded and the organisation’s reaction to perceived ‘failure’. The answers are usually revealing and new leadership choices start to appear.

The Irish team have created a culture where it is fine to have a go and ‘fail’ and then have a go again. That is how innovation leading to better results happens. Saturday was the first time in 113 years that Ireland have beaten New Zealand in Ireland.