SOARing Above Failure

Organizational Development Meets Personal Development


We all have fears, but there’s something particularly immobilizing about the fear of failure. The dreaded unknown can cripple you and prohibit you from putting an idea into action, from going after the promotion, or from achieving success – whatever that means to you.

Failure was something I feared until I started university. I didn’t go through life in a constant state of fear but I avoided failure at all cost. I wasn’t particularly an over-achiever, I just didn’t do things I didn’t think I’d be good at. God forbid I would have tried something and FAILED. “Don’t think of it that way - there’s no such thing as failure, everything is a learning experience”, my parents would say. My 20 year-old self was not down to not only change my view of the world but still risk not succeeding. No way. It was completely irrational, as most fears are, but that’s just the way it was and I’d be damned if someone tried to convince me otherwise.

When I started university I started to embrace failure, albeit accidentally. I remember my first day of my Organizational Development class. We were given a high-level overview of the weeks ahead and were told that we would learn to examine organizational effectiveness, their underlying beliefs, values and assumptions. I had a mind for business from the get go and I knew right away that this would be one of my favorite classes since it combined business strategy with emotional intelligence. I rushed home to dive into the textbook (remember, I was not an overachiever so this was a big deal) and by the time I reached the second chapter, my perception of failure had fundamentally changed.

“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be” - John Wooden

Chapter 2 introduced SOAR. SOAR is a strategy formulation and planning framework that allows organizations to plan their most preferred future. The idea of planning for your preferred future blew my mind. And the best part was that people, real-life people, were driving these changes. Which, in theory meant that I could drive such a change.

SOAR stands for:

Strengths: acknowledge and own what you do well

Opportunities: consider what may have an impact on your efforts

Aspirations: identify your goals

Results: determine what will be

This approach is similar to the most common strategic planning analysis, SWOT, which stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. With SOAR, ‘strengths’ and ‘opportunities’ are retained, but this approach adds a critical process of ‘appreciative intent’ by including ‘aspirations’ and ‘results’. Appreciative intent helps to build plans around what works, rather than trying to fix what doesn’t. Weaknesses, threats and ultimately failure are not ignored, they are simply reframed and given the appropriate focus within the opportunities and results conversations. ‘Reframed’ is the key word here, folks. It’s all a matter of perception, and it’s not limited to business. The same strategy can be applied to individuals… in fact, it can be applied to you.

To read more about the framework, read The Thin Book of Soar: Building Strengths-Based Strategy

Not only does the SOAR strategy enforce a more positive mindset, it encourages you to think about your desired outcome (aspirations) and how you’ll achieve it (results), unlike SWOT.

‘Success’ is an ongoing process. Indeed, everything is a learning experience and if at first you don’t achieve the results you want, you have not failed – you must just continue planning (sorry it took a textbook to drive that message home mom and dad).

As time went on, this became less of a theory and more of a way of life. With every decision, in every moment of self-doubt, and every time I try something new - consciously or subconsciously, I SOAR. Since I actively made that choice, the most amazing thing happened - I stopped failing. How? Because you cannot fail when failure is not an option. There is no failure in SOAR, there is only improvement.

The best thing about failure is that it’s entirely subjective. How you define and experience failure has likely evolved over the course of your life, and will probably continue to evolve. You have the ability to plan your most preferred future and ultimately achieve success.

Keep #bossingup,