In last month’s blog, What does it mean to cultivate a fail fast organizational culture we shared what typically happens when people experience failure, and how important it is to uncouple people’s fears about failure and to support and enable them to “normalize” it.  How cultivating a fail-fast culture enables organisations to survive, flow and flourish. How it involves learning from mistakes, creating teachable and coachable moments, that interpret and apply failures as manifestations of learning and exploration rather than trying to avoid or out-think them!

We explained that when people fail, they unconsciously sink into a series of reactive responses, that engage them neurologically and emotionally resulting in a range of irrational cognitive (thinking and feeling) distortions, which usually involve disappointment, confusion, and shame. How this detracts from the possibility of creating an environment where there is sufficient psychological safety to take smart risks, experiment and fail.

People then move away from and avoid solving the problem because of these pervasive un-resourceful states and act defensively, which usually involves laying blame, making justifications, excuses, and operating from denial as illustrated below in Diagram 1.
Diagram 1 Typical Reactive Response to Failure

Taking a reflective stance

Alternately, we can use the experience of failure to support ourselves and others we interact with, as a pivot point and as a manifestation of learning and exploration. We achieve this initially, by stopping and taking a reflective stance and intentionally hitting our “pause buttons” and by intentionally creating psychological safety.

Doing this enables us to “work with” what is really going on (the story) when our own, and the mistakes and failures of other people, are involved. It also helps us to cultivate self-awareness, self-regulation and ultimately the self-mastery to deal with making changes, taking risks, learning from mistakes and failing consciously and constructively, and to innovate and learn.

Cultivating Fail Fast teachable and coachable moments

When someone experiences a failure, a more useful strategy could be to support them hit their “pause button” and to then teach them how to better self-regulate and work within it. This allows them the time and space to take a quick “reflective stance” and safely associate with their range of thoughts and feelings and to connect with the results they caused. Illustrated in Diagram 2 below, working this way creates the safe and collective holding space allowing the person to move towards associating with, and acknowledging both the pain and the fear.

It also allows the creation of a new space where they have permission and trust be-come inquisitive and curious. To explore and apply specific questions to uncouple their fear, break their operating pattern and choose a more resourceful response to it next time.

Diagram 2 Choosing a Constructive Response to Failure

Choosing a constructive response to failure

They can then hit the “pause button” a second time and create the safe holding space, and psychological safety, for mindfully generating a teachable and coachable moment. By using the specific questions to generate a new, more resourceful operating pattern, by learning from mistakes, next time a failure occurs.

This enables the person to take responsibility, and acknowledge that their locus of control is within them and when they step into it and own it, they can operate in a container of psychological safety. To leverage talents’ capability to succeed by continually learning from mistakes and failures, and coaching and teaching their people to do so as well.

This way of working allows people, to apply mistakes and failures as “teachable and coachable moments” so that people become less risk-averse, defensive and avoidant. It can be used to empower people to be-come authentically courageous, creative and decisive smart risk-takers and game-changing agility shifters.

Driving our fear and normalizing failure

“If we as leaders can talk about our mistakes and our part in them, then we can make it safe for others. You don’t run from it or pretend it doesn’t exist. This is why I make appoint of being open about our meltdowns inside Pixar, because they teach us something important: being open about problems is the first step toward learning from them. My goal is not to drive our fear completely, because fear is inevitable in high stake situations. What I want is to loosen its grip on us. While we don’t want too many failures, we must think of the cost of failure as an investment in the future.”

Cultivating trust in the workplace

One of the key points that Ed Catmull makes is about creating an environment where trust becomes an inherent part of cultivating a fail-fast culture;

“Trusting others doesn’t mean that they won’t make mistakes.  It means that if they do (or if you do), you trust they will act to help solve it.”

It takes patience and acceptance, transparency and authenticity, and consistency and compassion. It requires a collaborative way of working that assumes people come from the best intention and want to see, respond to and solve problems creatively.

Using failures as pivot points, by learning from mistakes, create teachable and coachable moments that unleash peoples’ potential for innovation, and enables organizations to build the foundations for out-innovating their competitors.

This is the second blog in our series of 3 blogs, by Janet Sernack on cultivating a fail-fast culture.

At ImagineNation™ we provide innovation coaching, education and culture consulting to help businesses achieve their innovation goals. Because we have done most of the learning and actioning of new hybrid mindsets, behaviors and skill-sets already, we can help your businesses also do this by opening people up to their innovation potential.

Find out about The Coach for Innovators Certified Program, a collaborative, intimate & deep personalized learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 8-weeks, starting October 22, 2019. It is a deep blended learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles & applications of a human-centered approach to innovation, within your unique context. Find out more.

Contact us now at to find out how we can partner with you to learn, adapt and grow your business in the digital age.

Conflicting priorities and ever-present digital media distractions constantly compete for our attention. Even when we manage to get everyone in the same room, or on the same line, it seems most people have their head stuck in a device signalling that we’ve lost the fine art of conversation.

So, what can you do to get more creative ideas, to enable people to think creatively and critically, from the time you can get from your team, and have a creative conversation, no matter where they are?

Where attention goes energy flows

Most of us have been challenged with finding effective ways of breaking and disrupting people’s habitual way of working and trying to capture their attention.  To explore how to use peoples’ differences and diversity to solve complex problems, (the #1 skill identified by the World Economic Forum needed to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution) quickly and efficiently?

Whilst most of us are aware of the value disruption can potentially bring in effecting change and learning, it’s not always an easy situation to deal with, simply because it often creates discomfort & pain.  This usually results in a sense of uncertainty & instability, which we, as people, are neurologically wired to react to & move away from.

Paradoxically most of us also know that without some kind of disruption that creates a crack, or an opening, deep learning, change & creativity seldom occurs.  

It’s not about being nice, or soft, it’s all about developing gumption & grit

Gumption is a new leadership & coaching attribute I have warmed to recently as it is particularly relevant to coaches and leaders, as an important attribute to cultivate in today’s VUCA world.

It is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the ability to decide what is the best thing to do in a particular situation, and to do it with energy and determination.” For those of us who grew up with a very handy container of Gumption in their kitchens know that “GUMPTION Multi-Purpose Cleanser is a mild abrasive cleaner that delivers a deep clean without the use of harsh chemicals or bleaches!”

This means that the first step is to cleanse your mind of how things “should” and “ought” to be & decide to take intelligent action & energetically pursue how they “could possibly” be, with energy & determination.

In recent article “5 Characteristics Of Grit – How Many Do You Have?” by Margaret M. Perlis, she begins it by describing how she met with close friends who have worked in education with adolescents for over 40 years  “when I asked what has changed with regards to the character of kids, in unison they said “grit” – or more specifically, lack thereof. There seems to be growing concern among teachers that kids these days are growing soft.”

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, grit in the context of behaviour is defined as “firmness of character; indomitable spirit.” Angela Duckworth, in her TED talk, based on her studies, adapted this definition to include “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Stating that it’s the constancy of your tenacity, which is based on the degree to which you can access, ignite, and control it, is what really matters. That being risk adverse, and being unwilling to embrace and learn from failure, is the biggest inhibitor towards developing the Grit (and Gumption), necessary to survive, achieve & thrive in VUCA times.

Gumption and grit are synonymous in innovation 

This requires people to let go of being “nice” worrying about being politically correct, to develop innovation and collaboration, by being intentionally & safely contrary, provocative & disruptive involving;

  • Gumption; deeply cleansing people’s minds, to let go of old fixed, conventional & avoidance mindsets, risk adversity, fear of failure, complacency & other normal & habitual resistance factors to change they might have, without making them “wrong.”
  • Grit; passionately persevering being contrary, provocative & safely disruptive to achieve innovation goals & outcomes.
Being provocatively competent

At ImagineNation™ we teach coaches, leaders, teams and organisations to embody & enact gumption & grit by enabling them to develop an extremely subtle, artful & incredibly powerful generative skillset to become provocative competent.

This involves:

  1. Firstly, being able to work both with “what is” going on for the person, then having the gumptionto detach from it & flow with it, essentially, cleansing their own mind of judgement & evaluation, & enabling the client or the person, to do the same.
  2. Secondly, having the grit to then move themselves, as well as the client, or person tenaciously & simultaneously, towards “what could be” possible & available for them, in the context of an innovation outcome or a goal, to elicit a crack or an opening for learning & change.
The characteristics of provocative competence

It’s all about having the gumption & the grit to discard “being nice” & create intentional disruptions, that safely open people’s minds & hearts in ways that rock the boat, challenge the status quo, expose any elephant’s & sacred cows & other resistant or avoidant factors that people hide behind.

The aim is to disrupt people’s business as usual mindsets, behaviours & patterns to get to the deep core of the problem, resistance or avoidance factor.

To challenge, deeply cleanse people’s minds & hearts of their habitual patterns, to create cracks, openings & thresholds for generating creative ideas & innovative solutions that ensure future success.

From our research and experience, we have identified seven key characteristics of provocative competence:

  • Candour is about being authentic, open, honest & frank, calling it as it is, without judgement & with detachment, even if it hurts.
  • Courage is about being firm, bold & brave, in the face of difficulty & challenge, being willing to confront & overcome fears.
  • Curiosity is about being inquisitive, coming from an open, beginners mind, & desiring to learn or know more about something or someone, dispelling judgement & with detachment.
  • Confidence involves feeling or believing that one can have faith in, or rely on self, someone or in succeeding in achieving an outcome or a goal.
  • Compassion involves feeling distressed, concerned & empathic to the suffering or misfortune of another, often including the desire to alleviate it.
  • Conscientiousness is about being careful & painstakingly meticulous in achieving the outcome of goal, demonstrating conviction & commitment to go for gold.
  • Connectedness involves a state of being joined or linked, a feeling of belonging to or having affinity with a particular person or group, eco-system or whole system.
Why being provocatively competent really matters

In the Digital Age, to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where even robots are now being programmed to have social intelligence and embrace a growth mindset, that enables them to interact more effectively with us humans, we need to focus our attention towards facilitating creative conversations.

“Some jobs will disappear, others will grow & jobs that don’t even exist today will become commonplace. What is certain is that the future work force will need to align its skillset to keep pace.”  

If people lose their attentional capacity & ability to be present to others, in order to have real & creative conversations, then how can we work together to collaborate & innovate, to solve the range of complex and wicked problems, confronting us as teams, organizations & communities?

If we can’t be contrary, provocative and disruptive, how will we, & those people we interact, team and collaborate with, have the creative conversations that a collaborative work environment requires to harness people’s collective intelligence?

If we can’t develop the key skills in creative & critical thinking where differences, disagreements & deviations create the dissonance and disruption necessary for the cracks & openings for new ideas & solutions to emerge through creative conversations, how will we survive & thrive in the Digital Age & VUCA times?   

This is Part One of two blogs on The Art of Creative Conversations, focusing on the first phase, which is around Preparing for a Creative Conversation.

Join the next free monthly webinar in our Making Innovation a Habit Series – “Coaching to Lead Innovation.” It’s on Wednesday, 15th August, 2018 at 9.00pm Melbourne & Sydney, 5.30pm New Delhi, 2.00pm Paris, 4.00pm Abu Dhabi, 9.00am Rio deJanero & 7.00am New York. Register now.

Find out about The Coach for Innovators Certified Program, a collaborative, intimate & deep personalized learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 8-weeks, starting October 2, 2018. It is a deep blended learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles & applications of a human centered approach to innovation, within your unique context. Find out more.

At ImagineNation™ we provide innovation coaching, education and culture consulting to help businesses achieve their innovation goals. Because we have done most of the learning and actioning of new hybrid mindsets, behaviors and skill-sets already, we can help your businesses also do this by opening people up to their innovation potential.

Contact us now at to find out how we can partner with you to learn, adapt and grow your business in the digital age.