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Epic fail: Why failure can be good for business

'What do you think your biggest weakness is?' It's the question that interviewers never seem to tire of, and the one that interviewees instinctively think they know how to answer. Perfectionism - working to such impossible, impeccable standards that it's a weakness. In reality, a true perfectionist would take a little time to think of a less clichéd answer.

Interviewers might be more likely to take note if the answer was 'fear of failure', or more startlingly, 'I'm not proud enough of my failures'. Of course, the answer would need a little explanation.

Innovation and failure are intimately related. Experts say that unless you are extremely lucky it's virtually impossible to realise truly original, innovative ideas without some degree of failure. Going back to the drawing board, learning from mistakes and moving forward with a better, more focused idea is part of the creative and innovative process.

Research has shown that taking pride in failure is a component of the skill-set of successful entrepreneurs. The report Entrepreneurial spirit driving growth from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that entrepreneurs do not fear failure, but expect it as inevitable. Many even publicise their failures, knowing that feedback may well improve their understanding of what went wrong - and make it more likely that a solution is found.

Broader lessons can be drawn from this. It may be counter-intuitive, but if managers allow for and respect failure, they will free their staff to take calculated and creative risks. Intolerance of failure is more likely to lead to stagnation and a creative void. Acknowledging, and even rewarding, lessons learnt from mistakes may help encourage innovation, engagement and ultimately growth.

This may only be possible in organisations that trust and support their workers, and give the space for expression, exchange and feedback associated with 'employee voice'.

Acas aims to improve workplaces through better employment relations, and has published the Advisory booklet - The People Factor to help your organisation motivate and engage its staff. Practical training in related areas includes Skills for supervisors and those listed under Staff retention.

Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions page for more information.

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