Why we need to reframe failure

by | Apr 9, 2016

To reframe failure we need to look at ourselves

Failure needs to be reframed

We need to reframe failure

I confess I had never heard of Simon De Baene, CEO of GSOFT,  until I was asked if I felt we needed to reframe failure and define what it means.  Do we dramatize small mistakes and minimize big fails? I think in general terms we do.

 I was sent a link to his post The Day I failed on stage at TedX  to review.  At the top there is a graphic of  the word  "failed,"  on a solid black background, like a funeral announcement. Wow, I thought, before I read it - what the hell happened? This is an interesting and moving piece, by a highly successful, young entrepreneur, who got stage fright while doing a TEDx talk. Yes, that's it. He got stage fright and seemingly dried up two minutes into his carefully prepared speech. This was how he failed.

But this is not about Simon it's about us.


With impeccable insight, he lists the eight emotions he went through: "shame, humiliation, anger, sadness, fear, rejection, embarrassment, and guilt." Plus a six demographic list of people he needed to apologise to:  "the TEDx organizers, those present in the audience, my followers, my employees, my friends, and my family."  Followed by the six lessons he learned. Mainly they are excellent lessons.  Many leadership coaches would be delighted with his personal development takeaways. But one lesson stands out and highlights where we all need to reframe failure.

"No one is safe from the worst life can throw at you, and you must always be ready to confront it."

Let's be clear, getting stage fright at TEDx is embarrassing and disappointing. In twenty years time it will be a good interview story for a TV chat show when he's a global guru. Today, it's an "OMG-cringe-blush-head-in-hands-groaning-earth-swallow-me-up" type of moment.  It's a good lesson to learn, especially at 30, that these things happen. And life goes on and Simon will be fine. Read: Failure the other F-word

But this is more about us

What is it about us that a blip at a TEDx talk makes a successful businessman think he needs to prepare for:

 "the worst life can throw at you?" 

We are all guilty of fuelling the drama around perceived failure. And we need to stop and reframe failure and what it should mean.  We start applying pressure to kids to succeed in school whether academically or in other areas.  F = Fail.  We write people off at different stages of their lives and careers, because they don't conform to some notional template of success.  And it dogs us throughout our lives and careers.

This is a fail

It becomes even more challenging when we do have some modicum of success.

There is something in our affluent cultures that taps into it and even enjoys seeing already successful people become unstuck. We catastrophize situations and events, that are really not catastrophes. Some do so with an element of glee and joy and even try to profit from their misfortune, wrong turn, or mistakes.

This means that the pressure we put on each other to succeed, with no margin for error at all, is inhuman. We also become uncomfortable when we are confronted with a lack of certainty. We like people to appear successful and certain, which is why according to Tony Robbins, Donald Trump  has so much appeal. Happily Simon had encouragement from his audience.

Reframe failure

The "worst"  life can throw at us is epidemics, famine, natural disasters, wars, terrorist attacks, poverty, child abuse and exploitation, neglect, loss of life or limb. I could go on.  [Tweet "We are getting confused about what failure really is and means."]  We even reward failure, ignore it or cover it up, as we repeatedly see the exploitive actions of many of our leaders. This process of dramatization of small mistakes and the minimization of huge failures, is systemic.

No wonder Simon berates himself.

So while Simon De Baene contemplates his unfortunate experience, and I really do sympathize, perhaps we should reflect too. We need to make sure that we reframe failure in our own heads. We have to direct our energy at the fails that are important and let go the ones that are just tiny, temporary blips and need our understanding.

Nawal is a humanitarian aid worker



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