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I Work With a Bunch of Failures


By Marilyn Cox – Director of Marketing

My first couple of weeks on the new job have consisted of a series of micro-failures.  I haven’t been around long enough to do any real damage, yet.  My micro-failures consist of leaving stakeholders off of important communications, misspelling names, incorrectly completing onboarding paperwork, using Google Drive/Docs/Sheets erroneously, missing the mark on tone of voice, and lacking a point of view.  I find myself desperately trying to demonstrate the slightest bit of competence as I fumble through my first 90 days.

I’ve shifted from an environment where I was comfortable and an asset, to a world that is totally foreign.  Names, jargon, and process are all an enigma.  And that’s not a good feeling when your job entails communicating the right message, to the right people, at the right time.

I conclude each day tallying my failures.

And then I share them.

We Fail Together, in Public, with Confidence

You see, I work with a bunch of failures.  From jokes that fall short, marketing programs that flop, and social posts that enrage, I work for an organization that fails time and again.  And I say they’re failures with the greatest admiration, not just because I count myself as one, but because they’ve built a 50-plus year institution on the premise of failure.

Everyone involved with The Second City brand will say that one of the greatest opportunities found within this company is the freedom to fail.  And it’s not just lip service.  This is truly an environment that reinforces resiliency and risk-taking through improv exercises that develop perseverance and adaptation, focus on solutions versus blame, and respond to failure.  We practice these exercises as an internal ensemble andwe practice them with other companies.

We own our failures.  We share them in meetings, discussing the rejections of the previous week, and then breaking down why they occurred so we can build on those learnings.

We Fail Fast, and Incrementally, in Order to Create

This isn’t just lip service.  I see plenty of LinkedIn motivational quotes preaching “fail and fail fast”.  Unfortunately, they’re often referring to products and not people.  Products and services are given permission to fail, but employees are not.  Reinvention is a luxury often afforded to a brand, not an individual.

Failure is always a possibility when restructuring, managing new team development, adapting to multi-generational environments, and pursuing new market opportunities.  But improv skills focused on agility allow people to adapt to change, handle objections, develop trust, and accept uncertainty.

Our practice is to “bring a brick, not a cathedral”.   With each person bringing several ideas, and not a full-baked program, we can be agile, creative, and collaborative.

We Fail Free of Judgement

Sadly, this all comes down to corporate culture.  I’ve been a part of too many organizations that secretly hope an idea or team flops so they can be right.  This can be attributed to companies pitting teams against each other instead of developing alignment.  Changing corporate culture is hard, but not impossible.

By developing a culture of authenticity, companies can improve manager-employee relations, respond to change, and goal set.  Improv skills like transparency, compassion, commitment, and setting the tone, allow organizations to foster a culture that embraces failure, free of fear.

Why does it work at Second City Works?  Ultimately it’s the commitment of the organization (and executive leadership) to stay true to the culture that’s existed for half a century.

So let’s fail together in order to create, grow, and improve.  Share any of your failures.  This is a judgement free zone.

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal; it’s the courage to continue that counts.”

– Winston Churchill

Build real connections with empathy,  fear of failure,  teamwork


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