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The "F Word"…

01 September 2021

Sometimes, things don't go as planned. In a professional services environment in particular, people feel like they are expected to have all of the answers and the concept of failure is something that people really struggle with.

At the end of my last blog I touched on the fear of failure. At DWF we're well into our first ever internal YP Open Innovation Challenge, where teams from across our business have discussed a number of new ideas, and so I thought that this was a good time to talk more about failure and how to fail the right way.

It goes without saying that sometimes, things don't go as planned. In a professional services environment in particular, people feel like they are expected to have all of the answers and the concept of failure is something that we really struggle with. It is difficult to overcome the professional psyche that we have to get everything right, every single time and detach from the stigma associated with failure. The Innovation & Ventures team would argue that we all can, and should, acknowledge the word 'failure'. We want to make sure that the 'F word' starts to be used, but beyond that, starts to be understood.

We think that there is a genuine fear of failure in our industry. A large part of the training that young lawyers receive positions them as experts who have all the answers, and of course – how could someone with all the answers possibly fail?! This kind of logic builds a mindset, culture and set of core skills within the legal environment that discourages people from engaging with risky, radical new ideas or from having a go at things that are driven by uncertainty.

When it comes to failure, Innovation & Ventures have learnt several things, primarily that failure is not to be feared – it's going to happen at some point! But if you're going to fail…

  • Fail fast – try to work out whether an idea has merit as quickly as possible. If you think about the process of innovation and developing a new idea: the deeper you go into the process, the more it costs. 
  • Listen – to the other people in the process (colleagues, users, customers).
  • Learn – don’t just walk away from failure, you have to work out why you've failed to learn from the process. It's important to ensure that lessons learnt are captured and documented as this will benefit future work.
  • Adapt – think about what could have been done differently, reflect on learnings and apply these to the process.
  • Go again!

Being able to admit that something hasn't worked out and then having the courage to acknowledge that there are learning points is key – particularly as a YP, as long as you apply the rules above, don't be afraid of the F word!

This article was written by Nikita Patel, Innovation Manager

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