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Failure to Success

By: Steven H. Dayan, MD, FACS
Posted: June 23, 2010, from the July 2010 issue of
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Personally, the benefits of measured failure hit home most recently when I was teaching my six-year-old to ride a bike, and I struggled over whether or not to let her fall. Of course I didn’t want her to get hurt, but if she never falls, will she always fear it? I let go, and after she tumbled to the ground, she cried and ran back toward me, clutching her scraped knee. I then started clapping and told her how great it was that she had fallen, and that now she will be a better bike rider because only the best and strongest bike riders fall. I encouraged her to jump back on the bike and see what a stronger rider she is now having fallen. Puzzled, she looked at me, stopped crying, jumped back on the bike, and raced home with a raw sense of empowerment.

Of course, failure has to be measured and not repeated, and nowhere else is this more evident than in medicine. If a stupid risk is taken and failure occurs, the penalty is likely deserved, and repeating a mistake is rarely excusable. But in managing staff, it may be through honest mishaps following dedicated efforts that the best lessons are learned. Resiliency gained from failure develops the backbone of consistency.

Perhaps we don’t spend enough time seeking out and realizing failures and embracing them. Allowing a talented and motivated employee room to fail is one of the best ways to empower them. This eventually leads to strong delegations, greater efficiency and growth.

At my practice’s Monday morning staff meetings, team members are encouraged to discuss the previous week’s events. There are no accusations, denigration or ridicule. Rather, we attempt to find new solutions to problems and create measures to avoid repeating any mistakes. Through these meetings, we have gained enormous insights into the best way to convert and retain patients, find better Web sites and more attune vendors, and determine which of the latest technologies are or aren’t working. From the creative milieu of these meetings, some of our best ideas have come forward and some of my proudest employees have made their greatest strides.