I could see only shock and horror on the faces of my team members as the road to almost certain victory dropped into a steep decline, leading them to a guaranteed defeat. The project was a complete failure in their eyes and it was fascinating to watch the cacophony of emotions from stress and fear, to disappointment and embarrassment slowly taking their toll on them individually and on the team cohesiveness. A well-oiled machine that once worked so smoothly together now resembled a scene from a kindergarten playground: utter chaos and screaming.
And all because they put a fluffy, white marshmallow on top of their spaghetti tower.
If you have ever built a spaghetti marshmallow tower, then you know exactly what I am talking about. If not, you probably have joined my family in thinking I have completely lost my marbles, which even I find hard to argue against sometimes. I digress....
So, to bring you into the loop, the spaghetti marshmallow tower activity is a real scenario I encountered as I facilitated a team-building session, and the exercise went exactly as planned. The most common mistake people make is the marshmallow is the last piece added to the tower. It is at that point they realize the critical flaw in their plan, as they completely underestimated the weight of the marshmallow, which causes the entire structure to crumble. This is the moment when panic sets in and they scramble to try and salvage the situation – a situation that is, at this point, unsalvageable.
So many great lessons can be gained from this activity; the one I want to highlight is "Failing is an Advanced Skill" or, as we say at Bedrock, “Falling is an Advanced Skill”. This attribute can make or break who survives as an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur and who blows out. Interesting, it is usually 5–6-year-olds who have this attribute, as their whole life they have learned through trial and error. From walking, to riding a bike, to learning to talk, it was all acquired and mastered through a series of trials and failures.
It all starts to change between the ages of 5 and 12, as Erik Erikson describes in stage 4 (Industry vs. Inferiority) of his theory of personality development. Essentially, at that age we begin comparing our self-worth to others, which changes our view of failure. If our parents and teachers encourage failure as a necessary part of learning rather than berate us for not knowing the right answer and/or not getting it right the first time, this can have dramatic and lasting impact on our perspective on failure and our appetite for taking risks.
Thomas Edison and his team had more than 3,000 failures while creating the light bulb; each one was a stepping stone and a learning opportunity, and moved them one step closer to their vision. In contrast, for me, failure was the dreaded beacon which showed the world I was not good enough.
There is no single event I can point to, which helped me transition my perspective on failure; rather, it has been a journey. A journey travelled with guides, mentors and people I can trust. It’s as my karate instructor would say “better to get knocked down in the dojo where you will have many hands to help you get back up”. It is only since I have embraced failure as an advanced skill and stepped into my vulnerability with the knowledge that I am good enough that I have begun the transformation from living like a mouse to living like a lion.
Follow us at Bedrock Affect; regardless of your past perspective, you too can embrace Falling as an Advanced Skill, working with people you can trust and who have travelled the same road you are on.