I believe in starting a conversation with fellow professionals and learning from their experiences. Making their perspectives available to the whole community is one step forward in spreading stories, experiences… and failures. That’s why I have started a project of #UXFika – lightweight conversations with inspiring leaders over a cup of coffee (or two!).

This week’s special UX Fika guest is Josh Lenn – a transformational coach, actor, artistic director and a teacher. Josh brings what he’s learned as an actor and improviser into organizational settings to improve team communication, collaboration, and culture so that people become more confident in failing. Today we will talk about how failing could even be glorious.

Why is it relevant for UX designers? Failure in design is unavoidable. In fact, we have a strong tendency to tweak things in a bubble or cherish only successes, allowing our emotional involvement to cloud our ability to learn when things go wrong. And in fact, there is always something that goes wrong, and it’s often those moments where we grow the most.

Let’s see how Josh understands failure…

You have started Bold & Confident – a company to help teams and companies develop and grow by pushing them out of the comfort zone. How did you come up with an idea and why?

I was teaching improvisational theater about 8 years ago and one of my students who at that time worked at Mckinsey Design asked me to do a workshop at his workplace. It was a great success – we had a lot of fun, people were daring to do crazy things. So when I work with people and apply what I learned as an actor – I could see a profound effect because they are not trying to be good improvisers, they are applying it to their daily work!

I am very happy to make people grow and usually, that comes with some transformation and change inside out. That’s where the coaching comes into the picture. No one likes to fail, it hurts. Failing gloriously, being bold and confident is simply about rewiring your mindset. It is about seeing failure as an opportunity. That’s when we really celebrate failures.

What is your biggest learning so far?

When you name your company “bold and confident” you kind of have to lead by example and be this way.

I learned that what I am doing and giving to people is what I needed in my own life. The core of my workshops is to “fail gloriously” and to change the relationship we have with failure. If you help people to rewire, instead of failure being a problem – then you can let yourself be free as well.

Positive failure: does it exist? Or is that an oxymoron? What positive can come from failing?

To fail gloriously is to use failure as fuel to grow. We should more often practice celebrating it, finding a “gift” in it. The act of celebrating does not mean you love it suddenly, but it helps to be more positive. We have ruthless critics inside us – so by practicing celebrating failure could lift that inner ruthless critic.

Overall, there are three ways you can react to failure. You can get stuck, you can let it bring you down or you can use it to grow. I choose the third option. That’s what failing positively means.

Failure is a great teacher and, if you are open to it, every mistake has a lesson to offer” – Oprah Winfrey

Why do we need to talk about failure in teams and companies?

I think there is a lot of shame and stigma around failure nowadays. Millions of people have their confidence destroyed. If we can change that stigma in teams and workplaces – we can create psychological safety.

For example, a few years ago Google conducted a workplace research study called Aristotle. They discovered that there was one key factor far above everything else that made a difference. It was psychological safety and that colleagues felt safe to fail in front of each other, take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed. When we do not feel safe, we hold back and it has major consequences.

If we want to innovate and create, failure needs to be an option.

What do you think about the common mantra of “fail fast, fail often” or “always make mistakes” – especially common in digital startup culture?

I think it is a nice saying in many cases. A bullet point included in the company values, but much harder to live by. If you look at the personality types within startups – many of them are high performers, they don’t like failing. Yet we know it is highly essential.

That’s why we should practice embracing it, not just say it out loud, even if you try and fake it first as we do in the workshops. In this way, we can start being a bit more gentle with ourselves. This is how we start our workshops – we start building a muscle – we start to be less afraid, less worried.

Instead of fear of failure, how could we embrace it better in teams?

It has to do a lot with leadership and an open mindset comes from an organization’s culture. Culture underpins how we work and how we adapt to failing.

We need to own our failures – when you lead with failures, everyone will start to relax. Not enough leaders are vulnerable nowadays. Therefore we should stop shaming it or sweeping it under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen. I think a lot of designers might not feel comfortable showing their work in front of their team – they are afraid to be criticized. This is where I think the celebration has to happen. Embrace it, instead of closing your eyes.

Lastly, we should practice more open and non-judgmental listening, without criticizing and really accepting what a person says. Many times I work with the “yes and” method – building on each other’s ideas, instead of “yes but ” method which focuses on criticizing.

What are your favorite failure examples from history/business?

One person that sticks to me is Michael Jordan. He once said “I have missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – I love that quote because he is defined as a winner in history, but yet he saw all his failures as a reason for his success. He was extremely driven by it every day.

Elon Musk is another great example as well. Elon is building amazing things, but he is aware that failure has to be an option because if it’s not we might get somewhere worse than innovation, we might even go backward. Those failures often lead to bigger wins.

Extra bits

Your recent big fail:

I have many to choose from here. The big one was from March 11 – when I had every single work engagement canceled in 48 hours, except one. That was a big gift and instead of giving up, I started doing workshops online, building my brand online, finding new ways to get my business running. Another great example was when I got 0 out of 10 points in the evaluation of my workshop – I tried to get valuable feedback from people who hated my workshop.

Favorite Recent Read:

“Unlocking us” Podcast and their recent episode episode “permission to feel”. It talks about how emotional literacy – being able to recognize, name, and understand our feelings affects everything.

What is your superpower:

Creating an environment where people are not afraid to fail and dare.

About the UX Fika Series

In UX Fika series of blog posts, I talk with people that inspire me and whom I look up to as my role-models. The motivation behind doing this is, you might see some patterns and hopefully you’d be able to learn from the amazing people that I have had a chance of learning from.

For my international friends, FIKA is a Swedish concept, a state of mind, an attitude and an important part of Swedish culture. It means making time for friends and colleagues to share a cup of coffee (or tea). With no rush, full immersion and being present in the moment. That’s why I thought “UXFika” is a perfect name for meaningful conversation with UX leaders I look up to.

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