Fail, move on, win: what organizations can learn from tennis pros

“Create a culture in which failure is tolerated. Create a safe space. Allow room for mistakes. Fail Fast. Learn from mistakes.” These are often mentioned as necessary conditions for innovation. However, as failure creates emotions like anger and frustration, hitting a wall and moving on is not obvious.

So, how do we deal with failures and get your innovation back on track? How do you reset after a mistake, keep your mind fresh and your motivation high?

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Innovation can learn from tennis. Another mental, often solitary discipline with many unpredictables or “sudden swings of momentum,” as performance psychologist James Loehr calls them. Loehr and his team analyzed thousands of hours of tennis matches. Loehr: “What we saw was that points were often won and lost not during the points themselves, but between the action. We set about putting a protocol in place for players to control their emotional state between the points and get their emotional chemistry right to optimize peak performance.” This protocol is described in The Tennis Mind, a special report for TRUE Magazine.

Players are trained to apply these 4 steps after every mistake. And to repeat them until they become a habit:

  1. Respond with a positive physical gesture: f.e. turn your back on a mistake (don’t keep staring a the line you missed by an inch), don’t frown (negative face expressions influence your mental state), walk with confidence.
  2. Relax: breathe, stare into your snares or onto the court (don’t take in to much information, avoid to think to much).
  3. Prepare: back to “NOW”, what do you want to do, how do you want to win? What’s the plan?
  4. Initiate game modus: every player has a ritual like visualizing the next point, jumping up and down, bouncing the ball in a particular way.

Now, let’s suppose your team has worked day and night on a service prototype or proposal … and a group of clients rejects. Anger, disappointment, blame, guilt, … this is unfair. Many teams immediately go back to the drawing board, without the right protocol to deal with failure. The meeting room literally becomes a War Room.

Instead of ending up in this pressure cooker situation, try this:

  1. Respond to failure with a positive physical gesture: put material related to the prototype aside (so you don’t have to stare at it), clean up your desks. Discuss how it could have gone even worse (great to release cynicism and generate first laughs). Put a new, empty flipchart on the wall. Tabula rasa.
  2. Relax: take a time out to do something completely different, with colleagues or alone, go outside for a walk or a run, have a drink, write down your thoughts, watch your favorite funny movie clip or cartoon.
  3. Prepare: back to the drawing board. What is the goal of your common mission, what did your learn of the previous solution/mistake? What do you want to a achieve? What are your priorities?
  4. Initiate game modus: launch a challenge (“how can we”), go out and observe, get everyone to preparer a list of 10 ideas … Just know what gets you and your team members playing to win again.

Time !