How 'failure' can inspire creativity in an organization
An essay about perilous vulnerability, hidden creativity and marvellous failures

My name is Sergei. I am 31 and I left my last hired work in March of this year. I did that because my hobby had grown into a big thing and I lost the chance to combine two things at the same time.

So, now I can safely call myself an entrepreneur. I have mentioned that here solely to say that I have first-hand knowledge of what failures are.
Within this essay I am supposed to unravel complex interconnection between failures and success in organizations, based on my own experience and some theories, but before doing this I would like to take a step to a closely-related concept and look into a personal aspect of the issue.
Why personal – because of two reasons:
I believe that any viable company is not just a combination of people, but a combination of personalities and we should take into account a complex matrix of everyone's creativeness.
as I said above, I am entrepreneur and it depends on me how creative my project is or will be, and in the light of this fact, we inevitably need to return to considering my personal history, not as a professional, but as a person, in order to find the insights necessary and useful for this essay.
Thus, this work is split up into two parts, in the first one I will try to track how failures caused my current success and I apologize in advance to the reader if a part of my story seems like a confession. In the second part I will try to give an answer whether actions that lead to being creative as a person can be applied to a group of people, a department of a whole organization.
Chapter I
The story of a founder
Before I begin, I would like to share one interesting thought that came to my mind just before I started writing the first paragraph. The fact is that history is a very subjective thing. You can often hear that we ourselves are the creators of our history, and usually our prospective life is meant by this. But no less important is another, elusive at first glance thought: we are also the creators of our 'past' history.
Yes, I agree, it's not very clear yet, but I will explain: I could make up my story by tracing everything that has happened to me since I remember myself exclusively as a history of perpetual failures. I could also make up my story by putting together all the points of victory and success. However, in my opinion, the best and most correct view of one's own history should resemble a chessboard or a pedestrian crossing, when defeats precede future achievements.
When I was 8 years old, I began to attend button accordion classes. Only after two months, since I started my classes, I was told to get prepared for a concert, which was supposed to take place in several weeks. That time I was a small child and I had never appeared before the public. My fingers trembled, but I went out to a stage and played.
There were many such concerts subsequently, my teacher was looking for any reason so that we could play music in front of any auditory (the most terrible thing was to perform in front of my own school class). Not all those concerts were successful, at some of them I made mistakes and botched a musical composition up. However, I remember exactly the day when I went on stage, played my repertoire, went down and realized that this time I was not feeling any fear.
I still do not mind to perform anywhere and in front of any auditory :)
The conclusion I have made for myself is that fear can be tamed. When you constantly experience it, you gradually get used to it, then you feel it less and less, and then one day you find that your old friend 'fear' has long moved out of your apartment. That was my first magic key – to get rid of fear you have to deeply feel it and let it through yourself.
I studied at a mathematical school, but a year before entering the university I realized that I liked history, rhetoric and political art much more than draughtsmanship and physics. As a result, I decided to enter the historical and political science faculty. And, I must say, it was almost a suicide: when you studied exact sciences for four years, and at the last moment you decide to learn history and know it better than anyone in the city to pass the entrance exams for the required score.
To say that I turned my mind 180 degrees is to say nothing. However, I entered this faculty. At that moment, I realized that through perseverance you can beat those who had better conditions at the start. This understanding was my second magic key – persistence really brings results.

The day I saw my highest score for my entering exam to the University
3. The story about failure

Cheering winners of the scholarship programm at the award

My greatest failure happened when I was a fifth-year student. In Russia, by that time, a special scholarship program had already existed for 10 years, which annually revealed 1,700 of the most talented and creative students across the country.
The conditions were simple: you had to have only excellent grades for the last two semesters, then you had to pass the IQ test after which only 100 students remained, they were invited to an exhausting business game all day long. Of the hundred people, twenty were selected.

The winners of the contest received a monthly scholarship throughout the year. But it was not a matter of money, but of that particular feeling of pleasure that a man experiences when he ascends a mountain peak. To have this scholarship was considered to be extremely prestigious.
In Russia, students used to study for five years, so it was possible to apply for scholarship status only four times. By the end of my fifth year at university, my grades included only excellent grades, merely because I was motivated by the goal of participating in this program. By that moment I had become a winner of the contest three times.

I am receiving the award for the third time

A wise owl, symbolizing knowledge, is a symbol of the program
Among the contestants there was an unofficial club of a 'golden owl', those who won the contest four or more times were ranked among it. This goal is somewhat similar to the task of a tennis player to win all the competitions of the great slam tournaments, or to the task of an athlete to win an Olympic medal, it was just as ambitious and the path to it took four years of utmost concentration of efforts.
By the start of my fourth contest my student record book was fine. I passed the IQ test well, the next day I was full of beans and I was doing my best during the business game. I was one of few most likely to win people, but on the third day, when the winners were announced, my surname never sounded. I had been fearless and persevere, but I failed.
By the start of my fourth contest my student record book was fine. I passed the IQ test well, the next day I was full of beans and I was doing my best during the business game. I was one of few most likely to win people, but on the third day, when the winners were announced, my surname never sounded. I had been fearless and persevere, but I failed.
This story should have finished at this, but it did not. After the announcement the selection manager came up to me and said that I was the twenty-first in the list. But even this fact in other circumstances would not have bothered me so much if I had not known that two people from the selected twenty did not have the right to participate in the contest: one girl participated under another student's surname and record book, and another guy had some of the modules unassigned so his record book was not complete. The depth of disappointment, considering all the additional circumstances, was quite deep, after all, it was a goal that had been looming in front of me for several years, a goal for which there were sleepless nights before exams and all these excellent records in the record book.
What lesson have I learned from this situation? Well, injustice exists. I was depressed, but soon I realized that my failure could be turned into some kind of advantage. I found that I had something that few people had: the experience of a big failure. Not the fact of failure itself, but the sensual experience of it, in other words, I acquired resistance to shock, I learnt to be flexible and not to make expectations, being ready for any outcomes. That became my third magic key.

4. Three magic keys
You can ask me, dear reader, what does creativity have to do with it and what door do the above keys open?

My ability to cope with my own fear made me independent, I stopped worrying about exploring and opening something new. I call this ability 'my heart'. My ability to concentrate on the result and persistently achieve the goal allowed me to believe in my own strengths. I became free from constant doubts: whether this will work out or not. I knew that if I focused on the goal, then most likely I would succeed. I call this ability 'my fists'. Finally, accepting any outcome made me virtually invulnerable to any failures. I call this ability 'my skin'.
When all the keys came to harmony I felt freedom, I realized that I had no fear to create and, more importantly, I had no fear to fail. It looked like an infinite number of lives in some kind of a computer game where you can try and try, until it works out. And, remembering that perseverance brings results, you also know that you will succeed anyway.
The three keys opened the door to being truly fearless and creative. And this is the point where my creativity starts at.
Chapter II
A team and a leader
Two things that drive creativity
Can reasons such as perseverance, related to personal creativity, apply to the organization? Perhaps, but in this case, we would have to talk about collective courage, when the same values are shared literally by each member of the group. However, this relates only to very close-knit teams, which usually have a special kind of tasks or working conditions. It can hardly be said that usually absolutely every person in a team is equally creative, courageous, or stable.

So, what needs to be done or kept in mind if we want to get a team of people capable of generating creative and fresh ideas? In my opinion, two conditions must coincide for this.
The first condition is a personal story of a leader

It is important to note here that by leader we mean the direct leader of a group of people, so this does not have to be a CEO. If the personal history of a leader contains the experience of defeats, but at the same time these defeats did not entail a loss of enthusiasm, self-confidence, then everything is fine, because only one who had known the bitterness of failure, and then succeeded, can understand how valuable such mistakes are for moving forward. And this is why I paid so much attention to my personal story above. To cut a long story short, the leader must be experienced and wise enough to, if not to welcome failures, then at least make a qualitative difference between them or, as Amy Edmonson suggests, to separate fault and failure.
The second condition is people around a leader

But just a leader, no matter how inspiring he is, is not enough. It is also important what people surround him. Quite a few times I met teams where a leader was enthusiastic, but the cultural code of the subordinates was far from these matters. It is very important that at least a part of the team is really eager to do something meaningful, and the rest of the team at least does not interfere with this.
Here one could argue that it is the leader who selects his team, but in practice this is far from always the case. Often the leader has to work with the team that he got from the previous management or from the higher authorities. Furthermore, in modern companies, where employees from different departments collaborate on a particular project, it is not at all possible to talk about the possibility to change an employee.
So, we found out which two key prerequisites create an environment conducive to creativity: leader's experience of mistakes and the enthusiasm of at least part of his team. By enthusiasm, I mean here just the concept of 'passion' that JC Oliver, a global head of innovation at Microsoft, mentioned in as a key point if you take on an employee, along with knowledge and a skill set.
Through failure to success
I can't say that my project was experiencing truly catastrophic failures, which would have been followed by a change of a team, a business model or key values. But my project has overcome a large number of serious challenges and issues.
I used to try to solve some uncritical difficulties myself, so as not to load the rest of the team members with troubles. At that time, I thought that I was doing everything right - I showed my strength and, as it seemed to me then, concern for the team. However, the result was the opposite: instead of doing a good thing I just created the atmosphere of misunderstanding and frustration among the team.

On the contrary, when our project met with significant difficulties, I tried to convey to everyone the seriousness of the situation. These were moments when, instead of strength, I showed vulnerability. This acted in a truly magical way: my team members began to work far harder and with a twinkle in their eyes.
This kind of transparency seemed intimidating, but in fact it became a magic pill, it made me understand how important transparency is for the sincere dedication of team members. Agreeing with the thought of Simon Casuto that it is necessary to set the company transparent, I would add that before that, the leader himself must become transparent for his team.
As Brené Brown remarked, 'vulnerability is a core of shame but also of creativity' and, since we can't selectively numb feelings, a leader is always to choose whether to be wholehearted or to be a cold statue adhering to regulations and a work hierarchy just the way Nate Fink, Director of Engineering at Microsoft Yammer, covered in one of his interview. Both ways are possible and effective in different cases, but in a pursue of building a truly creative team a manager ought to choose the former.
Yeah, I did it!