Psychological safety: A crucial ingredient for navigating failure and disruption
- 5 Min Read
Professor Amy C. Edmondson, influential organizational psychologist, and Terence Mauri, Founder of Hack Future Lab, delve into the concept of failure as a catalyst for success. They explore the societal aversion to risk-taking, the importance of psychological safety in navigating disruption, and the need to cultivate a culture that embraces failure as a platform for learning and growth.
“What if it is only by learning to fail that we can hope to succeed?”
This is the powerful question that Professor Amy C. Edmondson– the world’s most influential organisational psychologist- and Terence Mauri– Founder of Hack Future Lab and IE Visiting Professor- discussed when they met for a fireside chat to discuss her upcoming book ‘The Right Kind of Wrong: Why Learning to Fail Can Teach Us to Thrive’ due out on September 12.
Mauri and Edmondson discussed why we so often miss the opportunity to fail well and shared stories of how we get failure wrong, and how to get it right. The #1 takeaway is that great lessons can be learned from learning to fail well.
Mauri: Can you tell me more about your new book, “The Right Kind of Wrong: The Science of Failing Well”?
Edmondson: My new book, “The Right Kind of Wrong: The Science of Failing Well,” aims to demystify failure. It addresses the two camps of thought on failure: the belief that failure is not an option and everything must go well, and the idea of failing fast and often. I argue that both camps have partial truths, and context matters. The book introduces three types of failure: intelligent failures, basic failures, and complex failures. Intelligent failures are desirable as they involve learning and innovation, while basic and complex failures should be prevented whenever possible. Throughout the book, I provide numerous stories, examples, and best practices for navigating failure and cultivating self-awareness, situational awareness, and system awareness as crucial competencies.
Mauri: What are some of the biggest blind spots when it comes to reframing failure as a platform for learning and growth?
Edmondson: One of the biggest blind spots is the societal aversion to risk-taking and the perception of failure as a badge of shame rather than a badge of courage. As we progress through education and into the workforce, we often become risk-averse and afraid of failure. This mindset hampers our ability to embrace failure as a means of learning and growth. To reframe failure, we need to recognize that all kinds of failures offer opportunities for learning. We must be willing to take smart risks that involve failure, as intelligent failures provide valuable insights. It is crucial to shift our focus from avoiding failure to pursuing important goals and opportunities while being hypothesis-driven and taking calculated risks.
Mauri: Is there a direct correlation between stress and psychological safety, especially in the current environment of disruption and burnout?
Edmondson: Yes, there is a strong correlation between stress and psychological safety. The current environment of constant disruption and burnout amplifies the need for psychological safety. We are living in uncertain, complex, and interdependent times. The aftermath of the global pandemic has brought about heightened turbulence, and this sustained crisis demands resilience. To navigate these challenges effectively, we must instill a learning mindset that embraces change and novelty. Psychological safety plays a vital role in fostering an environment where people feel safe to speak up, contribute their ideas, and engage in problem-solving. It is essential to create strategies to take care of oneself while finding joy in the process of collaboration and problem-solving.
Mauri: How does the rush culture and high expectations of hyperspeed and hyper-delivery impact our ability to speak up and prioritize psychological safety?
Edmondson: The rush culture and high expectations of hyperspeed and hyper-delivery can hinder psychological safety and discourage people from speaking up. In a culture focused on shallow work and shallow focus, deep work and deep focus, which are necessary for psychological safety, often take a backseat. When people are in rush mode, they may prioritize quick results over open dialogue and collaboration. This can lead to a deprioritization of psychological safety and hinder the quality of conversations. To create an environment where psychological safety thrives, it is crucial to encourage deep work, deep focus, and high-quality conversations that allow for vulnerability, open feedback, and diverse perspectives.
Mauri: How has the world progressed in terms of cultivating and embedding sustainable cultures of high psychological safety since the pandemic?
Edmondson: There is both progress and room for improvement in cultivating sustainable cultures of high psychological safety since the pandemic. The positive aspect is that there is now nearly universal awareness of the importance of psychological safety in business circles. People understand that when individuals don’t speak up or bring their full potential to work, it hinders performance and innovation. However, there is a risk of psychological safety becoming a catch-all term, encompassing from work-life balance to mental health. To truly embed psychological safety, organizations need to go beyond surface-level initiatives and create an ecosystem where psychological safety is prioritized at all levels. This involves leadership commitment, training, feedback mechanisms, accountability, and a continuous learning mindset.