Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Rethink Failure

We instinctively know that getting things wrong is just part of everyday life and learning so why is it so different in our business or work life?

Traditionally careers are built on success. The more successes you have the more your earning potential, the faster you rise the ranks and the better your professional reputation becomes.

Herein lies the rub! No one actually wants to admit they fouled up.  Its tantamount to admitting that YOU are a failure and really who wants to do that?

We all have those (often subconscious) internal conversations with ourselves. You know the way it goes? ‘I messed that up, I'm going to miss that goal, I wont get that bonus, promotion, my colleagues will think I'm useless and so it goes on until you take the scenario to the worst possible conclusion and you are homeless and destitute!

It sounds farfetched but on some level or another we all tend to opt for the safe, tried and tested route rather than take that risk, however small.

 To be truly innovative demands us to take an element of risk and an ability to accept, dare I say 'embrace' failure.

Homer is right. The only way to avoid failure is to do nothing. But failure has its benefits, and is probably impossible to avoid. Indeed, doing nothing is a form of failure too.

Its basically down to our attitude towards failure, how we personally embrace it and as an organisation how we choose to handle it.

Thomas Edison famously ‘re framed’ how he viewed failure when he said:

Likewise James Dyson failed on an epic scale when he took five years and 5127 failed prototype to develop on that worked


Many organisations  preach about failing forward, failing early and failing often, and use a host of other terms (fail fast, sharing practice etc) to talk about the good things that happen when things go badly.  While many organisation preach about 'honouring' failure many still don't actively practice what they preach.
Its impossible to run an organization without making a lot of mistakes. Innovation always entails failure and if you want creativity without failure, you are living in a fool’s paradise.  It is also impossible to learn something new without making mistakes.

Failure will never be eliminated, and so the best we can hope for from human beings and organizations is that they learn from their mistakes, that rather than making the same mistakes over and over again, they make new and different mistakes.

The best diagnostic to see if an organization is innovating, learning, and capable of turning knowledge into action is “What happens when they make a mistake?”

So here are some of the usual attitudes organisations take towards failure:

“Forgive and forget,” which may be temporarily comforting, but condemns people and systems to make the same mistakes over and over again. The behaviour this encourages is one where the mistakes get buried and we simply don’t talk about it again. 

 ‘The unforgiving’ This is where an organisation remembers who made mistakes, chases them down, humiliates them. The culture this promotes is one where a climate of fear prevails. In such situations, the game becomes avoiding the finger of blame rather than surfacing, understanding, and fixing mistakes

‘Forgive & remember’ is the philosophy that the best teams and organizations use. You forgive because you know its impossible to run an organization without making mistakes, and pointing fingers and holding grudges creates a climate of fear. You remember – and talk about the mistakes openly –so people and the system can learn. And you remember so that, even though you have tried to retrain people and teach them, if some people keep making the same mistakes over and over again, then, well, they need to be moved to another kind of job.


The museum of failed products

 And finally………..Something to make you laugh!

What would you do?

Does this sound familiar?  Funny clip about running a Teleconference.

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