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Five hot tips on how to ‘fail forward’ or, how not to be afraid of fear


If you are doing valuable work, you will experience fear.

And, I don’t mean the ‘turn up at 9 am, do what the boss tells you and go home at 5 pm’ kind of work.

The valuable work that pursues continual improvement, demands something of you and makes a difference to the position, product or people you serve. Valuable work always involves risk, and where there is risk, there is often fear. Here are five ways to make fear work for you.

Tip 1: Pay attention

The purpose of fear is to magnify danger, so that we can stay alive.

The inner feeling that says ‘don’t go down that alleyway’, ‘don’t go home with that person’ or, ‘don’t respond to that email from the Nigerian Prince who wants to share his fortune’.

This kind of fear heightens your perception to protect you from harm. In these situations, listen to your fear and leverage it to consistently take positive action.

Tip 2: Get real!

Fear is False Expectations Appearing Real.

The negative and often extreme outcomes we tell ourselves about taking a risk: I’ll lose my job; everyone will think I’m incompetent or, the client will hate us and pull the job.

While the risk to taking action may be real, the created imagining of the worst-case scenario is merely fear trying to paralyze us into inaction. Something that will ensure you remain constantly cautious and regularly abandon your efforts.

  • Separate real responses and catastrophic outcomes
  • Eliminate or mitigate the negative (real) responses above
  • Take action by following through with positive intention  

Tip 3: Be privileged

If you are a doctor in the emergency room, an asylum seeker boarding a boat or, a base jumper about to leap off the cliff, failure can be fatal.

For the rest of us, there is a freedom.

We have the space to make a mistake because our failure isn’t fatal. It is just something we would rather avoid. We have the privilege of being wrong. Not wrong on purpose, or consistently making the same mistake, but being wrong on the way to working out what is right. Take the risk.

Tip 4: Avoid erosion

If you only do what you know and do it very well, chances are you won’t fail, but you won’t succeed either. You’ll stagnate. Your work will become less and less interesting and you will become less and less important. Your skills diminished, your perspective limited and your possibilities restricted.

Avoiding failure today ultimately becomes failure by erosion of your worth. Take action today on that thing you have been putting off, scared to do or simply ignoring.

Tip 5: Fail forward

Successful people learn from failure. They learn the tactics they used, or the person they used them on, didn’t achieve the results they desired. They do not think that they shouldn’t have tried or, they are right and someone else is wrong. The learning mindset enables successful people to fail forward.

They learn from their mistake, refine their tactics or, grow capability in order to be better and secure the success they desire.

So, are you trying and failing or, are you failing forward?

Andrew Horsfield is the Director of Thrive Group and one of Australia’s new thought leaders. Passionate about bridging the gap between people development and business performance, his expertise lies in unlocking capability and then putting that capability to work.