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What’s Your ROF: Return on Failure?



Yes, that’s right Return on Failure. We know it’s much more popular to talk about your Return on Investment, but we think the real winners are the ones who know how to maximize their Return on Failure.

I, Susan, can’t take credit for this phrase even though lots of my life has been about recovering from failure. No, it was a client of ours, a marketing maven who coined the phrase. Over dinner on Friday she shared how her team had applied what they learned from our time with them, and one big piece was how they talked openly about failure.

They called it their Return on Failure. CrisMarie and I both loved it!

Who willingly dwells on, talks about or even reveals their failures?

The research out there is all about staying positive, playing to your strengths and keeping your eye on the prize. I don’t really want to dispel the power of being positive. If you are wired that way, and it’s working – great!

In our business and my coaching practice, what I hear is teams and people struggling with the falls, the mistakes, the Oh Sh*t! moments and being challenged with how to make a turn-around. What better way to think of those situations than a ROF, Return on Failure?

Don’t get me wrong. I say celebrate success whenever you can. I also, think there is tremendous value in metabolizing those moments you thought you failed!

Humbled and Pummeled by the Mountain

Recently, I was invited to go CAT skiing, a.k.a. Snowcat skiing, which is backcountry untracked skiing through trees and powder. To give you context, I’ve been skiing for just three years. I’m an intermediate skier at best. CAT skiing was a challenging adventure.

The mountains humbled and pummeled me that day, but I completed all ten runs! I had shown I had grit. Who knew most skiers at my level didn't?

I have no doubt the reason I got the cheers as I skied up to the cat on our last run was because everyone there was just grateful to see that I had survived and was arriving smiling.

In contrast, when I’ve skied at our Whitefish Mountain Resort , I’ve been conservative about where I ski, staying far away from any trees, powder and definitely not on black diamond runs. This year though I made steady progress through weekly women’s ski classes.

When I got the invite to go CAT skiing, I took it! I thought I was ready. Yes, I was scared but I wanted to go. Now, had I thought it all through, I never would have gone. I would have been rational and realized skiing in backcountry power meant skiing through trees, very high up in the mountains of Montana.

Backcountry meant there were no tracks, significant bumps, ledges and little cliffs that resulted in catching air! Once you got out of the CAT and put those skis on, there really was no other way down, except on skis. While powder is soft, falling regularly still hurts and requires getting up over and over again, which in that deep powder is exhausting!

So rationally it made no sense for me to be out there, but emotionally, well that is a different story. I wanted to be out in the back-country and loved those moments when I would find some rhythm and even did land a little jump. There were a couple runs that were near perfect through the untracked snow, through the trees and yes, over those little cliffs.

I experienced a lot of failure, but I kept getting up. I listened to all the helpful advice from my fellow skiers and did my best to incorporate the feedback. Mostly, on that day, it just resulted in creative ways to fall and get back up. But I held the belief that if I stuck it out, I was going to be a better skier.

Since that day, our Whitefish Mountain has gotten plenty more powder, currently being the snowiest resort in North America. I have to tell you my Return of Failure is through the roof! I am out there skiing through trees, down black diamond runs and getting Most Improved Skier comments from my classmates and instructor.

All those falls, the effort to pick myself up each time and the learning has blown the doors off my fear and given me so much more access to uninhibited skiing.

Return on Failure: 100%!

Back to You and Business

Return on Failure applies here too. Sometimes just like with me, things don’t go as planned. Don’t try to push away or ignore your failures. They truly are a resource for learning and growth, allowing you to expand into unchartered territory.

You might be thinking, no way I don’t want to think, much less talk, about my failures. Our business lost money, the product failed, or the process didn’t work, and I lost respect, my promotion or even my job.

Sure, it’s painful to fail. No one likes it, but it happens. To everyone. Stop pretending it didn’t, and start talking about it to see what you can learn. When you don’t mine it for gold, it’s just a weight dragging you down.

You know what I’m talking about – that heaviness that sucks the life out of your motivation to move forward, coats life with a layer of gray and convinces you to play it safe and stop taking chances.

Who wants to live or work like that? We want to give you a path to mine your failure so you get a Return on your Failure. It’s a simple three step process: Feel, Test and Create.

Step One: FEEL

When you fall, or fail, it’s important to not just get right back up and pretend nothing happened. You need to allow your system to absorb and recover. This can be simply saying, “Ouch!” or “That sucked.”

If you’re with your team, give people a sanctioned time to acknowledge and vent how they felt to go through it, and how they feel now. Don’t worry it’s not about wallowing. Giving permission to acknowledge the impact of the failure is the fastest and most powerful way of digesting the failure and moving on.

Step Two: TEST

Too often when we fail, we create a series of false, unhelpful and undermining stories about the event, ourselves, and the situations. For example, when we coach leaders or teams some of the false beliefs people have coming out of a failure are:

  • We’ll never recover

  • I’m going to lose my job, my bonus

  • It’s all my fault.

  • I can’t trust ______

  • It’s their fault, not ours

  • We’ll never get beyond this

Any of those ever run through your mind? The key here is to recognize that these beliefs aren’t helpful and likely not true. You need to unearth these potentially false assumptions and test them.

When you recognize you are being driven by a negative belief ask yourself:

  • “Is that true?”

  • “Can I absolutely know that it’s true?”

You’ll be surprised how often, when you really check inside, you’ll get a different answer than what you were assuming.

Test where you or the team might be stuck. Then you’ll be able to find alternative more helpful thoughts. This will start you moving out of the rut of failure.

Step Three: CREATE

Now, you should be getting some more life energy back, new beliefs and motivation to move forward.

This is where you get to take charge and design what you want to create next. Come up with alternative assumptions, brainstorm new possibilities, craft next steps that move you forward in the direction you want to go.

Remember my favorite saying: it’s not what you do but what you do next that counts!

Next time you believe you or your team has failed, mine that failure! Take the time to FEEL, TEST and CREATE and you’ll maximize your Return on Failure!

Make it habit and you and your team will be unstoppable!


CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: www.thriveinc.com. Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.


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