No Fear of Failure But Passion for Learning

Not to demonize mistakes, but to use the experience of failure positively sounds banal, but in most cases it is not that easy. Especially in a professional context, failure can be unpleasant, embarrassing, or even cost the job. Professor Dr. Miriam Müthel from WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management - shows that failure does have added value for employees and the company.

Professor Dr. Miriam Müthel, Chair of Organizational Behaviour at WHU

Professor Müthel, Chair of Organizational Behavior at WHU, teaches on topics such as "Dealing with Failure." On July 4, Professor Müthel and WHU alumnus Jörg Haas from PeopleFactor GmbH gave a lecture on "Positive Error Culture - Failure Can Be Beautiful." The keynote lecture combined Müthel's scientific findings with Haas's personal practical experience.

Müthel does not deny that it hurts not to achieve self-defined goals or goals set by the company. Nevertheless, she pleads for a rethinking process in the economy. "Companies with a positive error culture see above all the learning opportunities that result from the (rapid) failure of projects," says Müthel. This gives these companies a competitive advantage, because: "The more managers want to learn, the more transformation projects are initiated." For companies with a negative error culture, the focus is not on learning for the future, but on identifying and punishing a scapegoat. Instead of a desire to learn, these companies are afraid of failure.  As a result, companies with a negative error culture have fewer opportunities to generate success.

However, just claiming that failure is something positive is not enough. Even in the age of digitalization, failure is not nice.  "The responsibility that arises from failure is not reflected, however, in the fact that a guilty party is found, but rather in learning as much as possible for the future," says Müthel. The knowledge gained in this way can, in turn, promote the success of later projects. However, this success can be achieved by another team. Responsible failure, therefore, means learning not only for oneself but for the company as a whole. Managers are therefore asked to encourage learning from their projects - even if their team does not directly benefit from it.