Person failing
With a failure budget, you create a safe space for calculated risks, and strategically testing yourself within a defined limit. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai-based Aradhya Menon, a homemaker dreams of her own cooking channel, owing to her prowess in the kitchen. She cherishes the idea of cooking delicious stews and steaming chicken curries, while talking to the camera. However, she’s worried about several things: What if she accidentally lets something burn? What if there are no viewers? What if people leave negative comments? What if.... what if?

She’s not the only one assailed by such fears: Most of us have had dreams that we didn’t pursue, because we feared that it would fail. However, what if there's a way to transform fear into fuel for innovation?

Enter the failure budget, your secret weapon for conquering the unknown. It’s a metaphorical bank for missteps and detours. Think of it like an ‘Oops-I-tried’ fund.

American psychologist Adam Grant crafted this novel approach in his book, Hidden Potential, wherein he explained the failure budget: A tool to help you fail more so that, in the end, you succeed more. He sets a goal for the number of failures you want to rack up in a year, a technique he uses himself.

As he told the Australian Financial Times, he had planned to launch three projects by 2024, which were expected to fail. If he misses the mark and fails a fewer times than what’s allotted in his budget, he isn’t pushing himself hard enough. And so, the idea of the ‘mistake budget’, is to push yourself past that wrong feeling. It also helps when you do suffer a setback. Ironically, when you tick off the ‘failure’ on this list, you feel rather satisfied: You are meeting a goal after all, as he says. This feeling softens the roughness of failure.

The truth is, groundbreaking ideas rarely appear fully formed. They're forged in the fires of trial and error, as psychologists explain.

‘Success in our lives lies in the strength in our scars…’

Compassion
You need to forgive yourself when you make these errors, more importantly. Image Credit: Shutterstock

A failure budget isn’t magically ingrained into a person’s being, as Lois Grace Mathews, a Dubai-based psychologist explains. She says, “It is acquired, observed, modelled and finally etched into one’s being.” As Mathews elaborates, you choose to view your errors through a lens of compassion, which is directed towards yourself. “It encourages us to fight the fear of failure, and build faith in ourselves to manage these losses. It’s essential to have these learning bumps and detours, as certain blunders break you, but certain mistakes make you,” adds Mathews. You need to forgive yourself when you make these errors, more importantly.

She elaborates further: One’s true potential isn’t revealed, until they fail. So, embracing a failure budget comes at the cost of continuous transformation.

“The success in our lives lies in the strength in our scars,” she adds. UAE professionals and CEOs weigh in on this idea too, and explain how a failure budget can help in transforming a person’s outlook.

‘You’re not blindly throwing darts…’

hassled person
If you never experiment or take risks, you'll miss out on opportunities for growth. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Imagine having a dedicated allowance for making mistakes – it sounds counterintuitive, but it’s actually a tool that pushes you forward. That’s how Raghav Jerath, founder and CEO of monetisation platform Hydro, based in Dubai, explains his perception of a failure budget. Explaining why everyone needs one, “Playing it safe all the time is a surefire way to stagnate. Our failure budget provides the freedom to experiment, take risks, and push boundaries without the paralysing fear of messing up.”

Playing it safe all the time is a surefire way to stagnate. Our failure budget provides the freedom to experiment, take risks, and push boundaries without the paralysing fear of messing up

- Raghav Jerath, founder and CEO of Hydro, based in Dubai

Victoria Jones, a Dubai-based British psychologist, agrees, and adds that overly cautious approaches can lead to stagnation. If you never experiment or take risks, you'll miss out on opportunities for growth. “If you’re constantly worried about making mistakes, you're less likely to think outside the box and come up with new ideas. A failure budget allows for exploration and experimentation, which also fuels creativity,” she says.

She explains further, “As a result, the budget also creates a safe space for calculated risks. You're not blindly throwing darts; you're strategically testing within a defined limit. This psychological permission allows you to step outside your comfort zone and try new things.” It reframes failure as a learning opportunity. Instead of dwelling on the negative, you can analyse what went wrong and use that information to improve future attempts. “This shift in perspective makes experimentation more attractive,” says Jones. Moreover, once you know that there’s a set amount allocated for potential failures, the pressure reduces. If an experiment flops, it won't be seen as a personal failing or a waste of resources as long as it stays within the budget. This lets you explore new ideas without the fear of getting in trouble, she says.

‘Tried a range of jobs…’

Dubai-based Annika Mathur, a 28-year-old Indian expat sought this ‘creative playground’ after completing her graduation and post-graduation, Mathur was ready to try many things, within a time limit, and wasn’t quite sure what to settle on. She says, “I did try a range of jobs, from marketing at book-publishing companies, which turned out to be a disaster, to copy-editing, content creation, and none of those worked out for me.”

As she says, those two years were her failure budget in retrospect – a time to try different things, fail fast, and learn from the experience. It eventually led her to event management, while keeping up with her writing on the side. The failures were demotivating and stressful, and she questioned her own worth several times, but yet, she was determined to keep going.

As Jerath describes, this budget is similar to riding a bike – wobbly and a bit scary, but once you get the hang of it, it can open the doors to different opportunities. As Jerath summarises, “A failure budget isn’t about accepting defeat; it’s about fostering a culture where innovation thrives and where every setback is seen as a stepping stone to achieving your goals,” he says.

Mitigating the fear of failure

Success
Psychologically, setting a failure budget helps mitigate the fear of failure. The sting of the mistakes diminish. Image Credit: Shutterstock

People dread the word itself. Dubai-based Aisha Stevens, a British-Indian businesswoman says she doesn’t have the time and energy for such a budget: It’s too costly for her well-being as well as her time. She says, “Mistakes always rattle me and so that’s why I have to make sure that everything I do, works out.” Leela Menon, an Abu Dhabi-based media professional feels that a failure budget sounds wholesome in theory, but it’s too much to expect people to get used to the idea of failure. “Some mistakes just derail you so completely that you need to make sure that you won’t make a mistake again,” she adds.

It’s not easy to rewire your ideas on failure, true. Yet, failure budgets normalise the bumps and bruises that come with pushing boundaries. As Mathews explains, while getting comfortable with failure is the long-term goal, it’s a rather rough process. If you start building your failure budget and then expect to be unfazed by failures, that’s being a tad unrealistic. “As humans, we are wired to not accept our flaws and perceive it negatively. So, integrating a failure budget mindset, promotes a sense of pleasantness to handle errors and permits a mentality to bounce back,” she adds.

Psychologically, setting a failure budget helps mitigate the fear of failure. The sting of the mistakes diminish. Dina Khanat, the founder and managing director of Dubai’s Saraya Consultancy, explains how these failures can contribute to a growth mindset. She says, “It encourages us to quantify our explorations into the unknown. By setting specific targets for how many new initiatives or ideas we're prepared to see not pan out, we're not just bracing for setbacks — we're incorporating them into our growth strategy,” she says. These varying targets could involve setting a time limit for exploring a particular career path, a number of applications you'll submit, or even a financial buffer for potential setbacks.

A failure budget encourages us to quantify our explorations into the unknown. By setting specific targets for how many new initiatives or ideas we're prepared to see not pan out, we're not just bracing for setbacks — we're incorporating them into our growth strategy...

- Dina Khanat, the founder and managing director of Dubai’s Saraya Consultancy

As Khanat explains, this adjustment diminishes the stigma associated with failure, transforming it from a daunting prospect into a calculated element of strategy. You see each trial as a step towards success.

What failures are allowed in this budget?

Is there a good or bad failure that’s allowed?

Khanat explains, “You need to differentiate between productive and unproductive failures. Productive failures are those that arise from attempts to expand, innovate, or push beyond established boundaries. These are failures of ambition, not of negligence. They are planned, anticipated, and, most importantly, learned from. Unproductive failures, on the other hand, result from oversight, insufficient effort, or a lack of foresight,” she says.

However, some mistakes committed due to negligence and oversight shouldn’t be dismissed either, adds Jones. Did you learn something from it? Will you exercise more caution next time? Perhaps, the error does have space in your budget then, she says. “Let’s face it, many of us are so deeply involved in planning projects, that we might not see a probable error.”

We can't ‘hand-pick’ the failures that we make. What matters is, how we deal with the failures we make. So, you can make all kinds of mistakes, the small ones, or the big ones, those that humble you, challenge your fears, some that change your perspective, mistakes that add to a sense of self...

- Lois Grace Mathews, psychologist, Dubai

Nevertheless, the severity of a mistake also needs to be taken into consideration, she adds. “While the budget allows for some level of failure, the severity of the impact can be a consideration. A minor setback that can be easily rectified is different from a major failure that causes significant disruption or financial loss. The budget might have a limit on the allowed impact of failures,” she adds.

Your failure budget isn't a green light for recklessness. “Ideally, experiments within the budget should be well-planned and have a defined purpose. Completely random attempts with no thought or strategy wouldn't be the best use of the allocated resources,” she says.

Yet, Mathews doesn’t believe that we can ‘hand-pick’ the failures that we make. What matters is, how we deal with the failures we make. So, you can make all kinds of mistakes, the small ones, or the big ones, those that humble you, challenge your fears, some that change your perspective, mistakes that add to a sense of self. It helps to release emotions, challenge narratives and enables you to become more accepting of change.

How to create your own failure budget:

Jones shares some ideas on how to do this:

Define your goals: What areas do you want to experiment in? Is it career exploration, personal projects, or business ventures? Having a clear target helps you focus your efforts.

Set boundaries: Determine a reasonable amount of ‘failure’ you're comfortable with. This could be a number of attempts, a timeframe, or a financial limit.

Plan for reflection: Schedule time after each experiment to analyse what went well and what went wrong. Use these insights to inform future attempts and adjust your approach as needed.

Maintaining the mindset

Celebrate small wins: Acknowledge and reward yourself for taking risks and learning from failures. This reinforces the positive aspects of the process.

Practise self-compassion: Be kind to yourself when things don't go as planned. Everyone makes mistakes, and that's okay.

Seek support: Talk to friends, mentors, or colleagues who can encourage you and offer different perspectives.

As she reminds, a failure budget is a psychological tool, not a rigid accounting system. It's about creating a safe space for learning and growth, not about setting yourself up for financial ruin.