Fearing Failure to Fearless Innovation

Fearing Failure to Fearless Innovation, illustration by Iris

Fearing Failure to Fearless Innovation, illustration by Iris Maertens

We were pleased to welcome some new faces to this week’s Community Call. We’ve been using this call to talk about the 7 Shifts Greenpeace is making towards being a more inclusive, people-powered organization. Each week, we talk about one of these shifts and try to determine what makes them difficult inside of the Greenpeace context.

This week, we talked about Shift #4: Fearing Failure to Fearless Innovation. If you’re a regular reader of my work, you know that I love to fail as I believe it’s failure that leads to learning. In the Greenpeace world, people have the collective feeling that we don’t talk about failure enough. Our conversation this week revolved around the fact that there is a lot of ego in our work, and people don’t tend to highlight the mistakes they make. Yet we were quick to establish that it’s exactly the mistakes which make the work so interesting. One of our new participants, Alex said,

“If you own the failure and accept it as a failure, it’s more useful to other people. The more failures we talk about the more we help other people. It’s personal, we need to say how we messed up and what we think about it.”

I couldn’t agree more. We all need to encourage people to fail. Alex also talked a little about how the fear of failure in an organization can be exasperated by the internal culture:

“If you have a manager who will penalize you for the failure, you’ll tend to hide things.”

Cody identified another issue that makes viewing failure as learning difficult – a lack of evaluation and resourcing.

“We need to do better at building evaluation into our processes. There’s always an issue of capacity, we’re always rushing to the next thing instead of evaluating what we’ve done.“

It’s true and not specific to Greenpeace. In the non-profit world, we’re planning the next push before we’ve implemented the last one. If we don’t publish often and openly, we don’t truly reflect upon what we’ve done. As we identified the need to be more open with our failures, this community began to discuss ways we can use our call to reflect.

We thought about adding a standing item to the Agenda called “What I failed at this week”. We started the tradition by talking about things each of us had messed up at. It was invigorating to have a space to say “I tried something and it didn’t work.” Flora talked about how she felt she had failed to control her temper at a recent work function. She didn’t react out loud, but knowing that she was frustrated with a lack of cooperation between her colleagues felt like a failure to her.

“You can’t force people to cooperate. I expected a lot of different views, but there were several occasions where I lost my temper though not out loud.”

After Flora talked a little more about how she felt like she had a lack of creativity because she couldn’t solve the issues of cooperation, Ligia encouraged this kind sharing by saying,

“You are creative, you just don’t know it. We need to stop comparing ourselves to everyone else. Pave our own paths. Think about our founders – they were trailblazers, not everything went right, but they stuck it out and that’s why we get to have this conversation now. We need to remember the core values of Greenpeace and focus on the people who are engaged.”

Next, we talked about how the 7 Shifts relate to Greenpeace’s Diversity and Inclusion Principles. We were all saddened to note that the principles have not made it out of the HR Department. Sarah remarked that the 7 Shifts had very active language, while the D&I Principles seemed more passive. She expressed a desire to identify how the principles equate to each shift, and how we might act because of this relationship. As a group, we decided to start talking about these principles in relation to other frameworks in the Greenpeace universe and to be vigilant about breaking down silos.

We are ready to start taking our conversations towards outcomes. We’d like to write some criteria for when our colleagues should be secretive. Luca had the brilliant idea of producing Diversity and Inclusion Challenges to help people understand what they have to do in their everyday work to help inspire the culture shift we want to see internally.

We also intend to write the new Greenpeace International Executive Directors to invite them to our call. Johanna wrote some reasoning into our call pad:

“Why you should participate in this call: this call is a great platform to connect with people from different units and departments. It is also open to alumni and volunteers, not only staff. We can be honest, creative and crazy at the same time. It feels like a family :)”

Join us April 12th.

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