Breaking Good – Why You Should Embrace Failure


My Daughter is now old enough to negotiate the stairs in the house and has for a while.

I still get nervous when she is at the top, starting to make her way down.

As a result we have probably kept the stair gates on for longer than absolutely necessary.

For anyone who has traversed baby gates you will know the initial awkwardness.

Very tricky to begin with, attempting to step over them and miss a step – it is even more challenging at 1am after a bottle of red!

After a while it becomes second nature – unless you are a guest.

My parents recently came round for Dinner and they have never quite got the hang of negotiating the gates.

My Mum finds it especially challenging.

In the past, instead of using the bannister, she uses the frame of the gate (putting all her weight on it), to help pull herself over the bottom part of the frame.

Now, the gate is not designed to take the weight of an adult – I’m not even sure it would take much effort from a toddler to dislodge it. The gate is kept in pace by a screw and a flat piece of plastic – this expands outwards and fits to the wall, or the banister depending on how your stairs are set up.

Telling your Mum not to do something is near on impossible, but I’ve encouraged her to use the banister and not the gate – warning the gate is likely to break away from the wall.

I hear a thump from the landing and a small voice, ‘Oh, no.’

On the landing I find my Mum trying to hold the gate up, both brackets had come away from the wall. She had used the gate as a leaning post again.

My Daughter found it incredibly funny and took great delight in telling my Dad about the accident!

We took the gate away and as much as I wanted to fix it there and then, worried about My Daughter playing near the steps, we decided to leave it and fix it later.

It has been several days since the gate came away from the wall and do you know what? We decided not to fit it back on the wall.

My Daughter has not thrown herself down the stairs and is aware of the danger of playing near the top of the steps.

It also makes the landing look a lot bigger and we don’t have to worry about tripping over the metal bar, especially after that bottle of red. Ultimately it makes going up and down the stairs easier.

When something breaks or a situation changes, we immediately think we have to fix it. Sometimes it is not always necessary and it can actually reveals a different solution – something that may actually be better.

I have been involved in a number of scenario’s at work where a process or system has failed. In doing so we had to get creative to fix it, or there was a realisation that in breaking it presented a new opportunity.

There are several famous examples of mistakes, of things not going to plan, that worked out for the better.

Guinness – Burnt the hops by accident and created the unique taste it has today.

Coke – Used as a cure for headaches initially. An assistant accidentally mixed with carbonated water

Corn flakes – Boiled wheat became stale, so it was put through rollers hoping for a dough to be used for cooking. Instead of dough and they got flakes which people loved.

Slinky – A naval engineer was trying to use a spring to stabilise a part of the ship. The spring fell off the shelf and it continued moving. They saw the potential and started selling it as a toy.

Play-Doh – It was initially an attempt to make a wall paper cleaner, which failed, resulting in a clay like mixture.

All of these products have gone on to sell millions, all because of mistakes or scenario’s initially classed as failure.

It is not always necessary to dive straight in, looking for a new and immediate fix.

Take a step back and gain some perspective – it’s never as bad as you think.

Some questions to consider, if it breaks:

Has the mistake or failure revealed anything new or interesting?
What new opportunity does it provide?
How does it change or challenge your thinking?
How can you share this with others?

If it’s broke, you don’t always need to fix it.

Believe and take action.

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Ian Ruane

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