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Failure culture: To succeed, we must embrace failure too?

In some cultures, failure is stigmatized; in others, it's viewed as a valuable learning opportunity. When you hear the word failure, what is your first thought? Write it down, and we will share something interesting with you at the end of this article.

Every failure or rejection carries with it a chance to learn, connect, or redirect. Instead of dwelling on our setbacks, embracing them as a chance for personal and professional growth is better. Encouraging creativity, embracing risks, and fostering a culture of innovation are essential to achieving organizational success. However, one crucial aspect often overlooked is the willingness to embrace failure as a fundamental component of growth and learning. Contrary to popular belief, failure is not inherently harmful. Instead, it often serves as a stepping stone to success.

"If you stop making mistakes, you stop learning." Theodor Fontane


Psychologist Carol Dweck's highly noticed research on the "growth mindset" during the 1990s underscored the value of regarding failure as a pathway to learning and resilience. Dweck outlined two fundamental mindsets: fixed and growth.

  • A fixed mindset perceives abilities as inherent traits, immutable and impervious to change. It often attributes success solely to innate talent rather than effort.

  • In a growth mindset, failure is recognized as a temporary setback, not a defining characteristic. It is seen as an opportunity for growth, to confront, overcome, and derive insights from.

Dweck advocates that true success lies in striving to become the best version of oneself rather than comparing oneself to others. In this perspective, effort emerges as the linchpin for success, highlighting perseverance and dedication's transformative power.

But… let's think about that for a minute.

Many types of research have been conducted asking, "Is growth mindset real?" and claiming the science behind it is flawed, or calling it "not wrong, but incomplete." So, although Dweck claimed adopting this mindset can help anyone succeed and grow, a few decades of research show that teaching the concept doesn't produce any gains in academic achievement.

Harry Fletcher-Wood, a history teacher, educational researcher, and author of books such as "Habits of Success" — where he writes about how every student can learn through Responsive Teaching — which he calls a practical guide to using cognitive science and formative assessment effectively — wrote an interesting article asking us to think about the question, "Is growth mindset real?"

His conclusion is, among other things, that a growth mindset probably isn't real and that, we quote, "There are no miracle substances in education. Any time we hear that a recently-made-up-construct (growth mindset, grit, emotional intelligence, resilience) is more important than knowledge and skill in predicting outcomes, they're wrong."

So, what is a failure culture?

In the world of business and innovation, the concept is closely linked to Silicon Valley and the startups of the 20th century. Visionaries in entrepreneurship stressed the significance of "failing fast" and extracting lessons from mistakes to foster improvement.

A "failure culture" refers to an organizational or societal attitude, mindset, or set of practices that view failure not as something to be avoided at all costs but as an opportunity for growth, learning, and innovation. In a failure culture, individuals or groups are encouraged to take risks, experiment, and try new approaches, knowing that failure is a natural part of the process and can provide valuable insights and lessons for future success.*

This culture prioritizes learning from failures, adapting strategies accordingly, and fostering a supportive atmosphere where individuals feel empowered to take risks and challenge the status quo in pursuit of continuous improvement and success.

Why do we fail as kids and learn something from it, but when we grow old, we stop doing that?

Falling is a part of learning to walk. Some research has shown that babies between the ages of 12 and 19 months fall, on average, 17 times per hour. And yet, they never quit; they keep going. When was the last time you failed at something 17 times in 60 minutes? Sometimes, we see our mistakes more than we value our success.

We often feel shame when we fail. It is a combination of social, cultural, and psychological factors. Society places a high value on success and achievement, leading individuals to feel pressure to succeed and fear judgment or disapproval if they fall short. We don't like to admit we did something wrong at work. Maybe it's the perfectionistic tendencies, setting high standards, and fear of making mistakes that can intensify feelings of shame in the face of failure.

We have learned from childhood that mistake-makers are not appreciated. Even worse, when we make mistakes, we are rejected. Mistake-makers are rejected and punished for their behavior and actions. Many people spend some energy to avoid experiencing this rejection (again). They

avoid mistakes where and how they can. One of our basic needs is the desire for belonging and recognition. Being cast out is the ultimate punishment. In everyday work, this often means that we would rather complete tasks according to the rules than expose ourselves to the risk of making mistakes. (from the Book "The Complexity Trap" by Stephanie Borgert, qohubs CSO)

Failure-friendly organizations exist!

Until now, we have focused more on the individual level. Now, let's look at the organizational level of failure culture. We came upon an interesting fact that the company "" is one of the famous failure-friendly organizations. They, in fact, have a process in place that allows any employee to launch an experiment without permission from management and also allows any employee to cancel it.

*Failure-friendly organizations have special perspectives. Here and now, we look at their impressively simple definition and their crystal-clear view of failures.

Failure = undesired result/ unforeseen event/ an unfulfilled expectation

In failure-friendly organizations, they can be used to identify the potential for improvement and to learn organizationally. Failures are addressed openly and not denied or trivialized. This culture of failure ultimately leads to greater reliability and promotes trust among each other. One basic assumption here is that failures rather arise from structures and processes, which is why they are virtually decoupled from people. "Mr. Smith or Ms. Bauer made a mistake" does not occur in the communication. They search for the actual cause together.

At the same time, people accept fallibility and mistakes. Awareness of one's fallibility means that mistakes are not perceived as a threat or fundamentally negative.

*example taken from qohubs session, "Our culture of failure", part of The Culture Triple, a program designed in cooperation with Stephanie Borgert, metafinanz Informationssysteme, and qohubs

How to implement failure culture?

When we face failure with punishment rather than acceptance, employees hesitate to experiment or take on new challenges. This can lead to a stagnant work culture. What can we do?

  • Employees should be invited to openly discuss their failures and mistakes and share what they have learned from the situation.

  • Recognize and normalize that both successes and failures are parts of the process.

  • Create a safe space and environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas and perspectives. (With qohubs, you now have the infrastructure for that :)).

What do you think of when you hear the word failure?

We started this article with this question. Did you write down or remember your answer? Do you think of shame and fear?

That was the first thought of most of the qohubs Experience Session participants on the topic of "Culture of Failure." Yet, they found out and got a collective understanding that there is another way and that the employees of failure-friendly organizations see it differently. They see failures:

  • as a returned message "into the system" - feedback that can be used to identify the potential for improvement and to learn organizationally

  • as something that arises from structures and processes and is thus detached from a personal level allowing identifying the cause of failure together without shame and fear.

Please keep in mind, when it comes to failure, it shouldn't be one person against someone else. It should be the team against the problem. How failure-friendly is your organization? Are you still struggling with failure, #conflict, and feedback? If you want to know how qohubs can help you, write to us at

If you intend to prepare your leadership team to deal with complexity and complex questions, drop us a line via or contact us to schedule an Experience Session now.


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