Fear of failure can become paralysing in the workplace, preventing businesses from innovating and making the changes they need to grow. Director of The Strategy Group and F-OFF forum speaker, Julian Kezelman, shares his thoughts on facing failure in the pursuit of innovation.


1. Tell me about your work with The Strategy Group?

The Strategy Group is an innovation consulting business, which helps large organisations build their innovation culture, capability and performance. We work with the likes of Telstra, Westfield and Government to introduce new ways of thinking and working; and build new venture opportunities and initiatives.

I’ve been with The Strategy Group for two years and, as a Director, I’m responsible for designing, developing and delivering new innovation programs, advising clients of innovation strategy and generally building up our fantastically entrepreneurial business.

2. What’s been your experience about attitudes to ‘failure’ and risk-taking among companies you’ve worked with?

Lots of big companies are talking about ‘getting comfortable with failure’, but when it comes time to take action, they are often held back by a deeply risk averse culture and the need to keep delivering on business-as-usual.

That said, within these companies, we’re finding more and more people coming out of the woodwork and asking for opportunities to do things outside their prescribed day job. It’s the attitudes of these individuals that can start to become infectious.

3. How important is it for organisations to embrace a culture that allows for ‘failure’? Why?

If an organisation wants to grow, they need to develop a culture that allows failure – but failure for the right reasons. To my mind, the right reasons are:

  1. to build the organisation’s resilience;
  2. to build the organisation’s appetite to try new things;
  3. to progressively learn about their ideas so that one day they can deliver something great.

4. What does the term ‘fear of failure’ mean to you?

I think fear of failure is actually a survival instinct, hard wired into our biology and shaped over millennia of evolution. In modern times, fear of failure helps to promote career survival, social survival and helps us to preserve increasingly precious resources like time, effort and focus. So while it does serve a protective function, it can also be paralysing and stop us from growing as individuals.

5. What role has the ‘fear of failure’ played in your own life, if any?

Fear of failure kept me working in financial services for much, much longer than I would have liked – the role was clearly laid out, the job was interesting enough and the risk of doing something different was too great. After I took those first steps away though, I never looked back.

6. What are your top three tips for recognising and overcoming the ‘fear of failure’?

  1. Notice your physical reactions, like sweaty palms, heart palpitating and desire to run away.
  2. Realise that your reactions are completely normal (and they won’t kill you).
  3. Reinterpret how you experience those feelings as indications you are heading in the right direction.

If you’re looking to make a career change, or promote innovation within your organisation, join us at F-OFF on 1st February, to hear more about from Julian and our other inspiring speakers. You can get your tickets here.