Foard [Jones, Associate Dean, Administration, Human Resources, and Facilities] tells me that it has become standard in job interviews for positions that report directly to me to ask: “How comfortable are you working for someone who walks into your office and says — I have a crazy idea.” I admit that I do this regularly. Sometimes I talk myself out of it. Sometimes I convince others the idea is worth pursuing. Always I am asking my staff to do more work or to do something in a different way.
One of my obsessions is to think about how to shape the culture of the college in ways that promote the qualities I want to instill in our students: risk-taking, a willingness to get out of your comfort zone, collaborating with people from different backgrounds, and making high-quality decisions based on real-time data.
My latest crazy idea is that I want to celebrate failure in the college. Why? Because nothing great happens without it. Only through failure will our students find great success. So, in many ways, failure is the doorway to greatness; we just aren’t comfortable with that idea. All the iconic business stories have failure right in the middle of them. Yet we push our students hard to be uncomfortable with failure so that when it inevitably happens, it is devastating to them.
I want to turn this dynamic on its head by creating a college-wide competition that requires every student to stand up, explain a failure that they have had and what they have learned from it. The event would be an exercise in story-telling, getting out of your comfort zone to describe a real life journey and share important lessons that can benefit others. It would also emphasize the point that everyone fails, survives it and needs to learn from it. The winner would be the student who told the most compelling story with the best learning lessons for business professionals. I would be willing to put significant prize money behind this (e.g., a one year scholarship) and perhaps a speaker series where we would ask alums to come in and tell their stories of risk-taking, failure, lessons learned and eventual success. I am even considering a similar event with awards for faculty and staff.
Think about the mentors and influencers in your life. What are the stories that they tell you to help frame up your pursuits? How many of these conversations deal with overcoming something…coping with and persevering through failure? World changers embrace risk and that can only happen if they have developed a good comfort level with failure.
So in the spirit of Foard’s interview question: who wants to work with me on this crazy idea?
Paul Jarley, Ph.D., is the dean of the UCF College of Business Administration. He blogs every week at http://www.bus.ucf.edu/dean. This post appeared on May 13, 2013. Follow him on Twitter @pauljarley