Fail and Win

Wattenberg chess visualization 050421

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I have been thinking about a post by Tac Anderson on his NewCommBiz blog about making mistakes, crisis-based decision making and how we learn.  It specifically got me thinking about organizations that learn and those that don’t really, or at least not very well (or easily).

Things move terribly fast in today’s marketplace and the halls of business. We blame it on the Internet, on the 24-hour news cycle, on our growing propensity for being “always on and connected” and on “everyone else.”  There have been countless barrels of ink spilled on the importance of failure for learning, both as individuals and organizations.  Even just thinking about how you learn personally will confront you with the first attempt at doing something, assessing how well that went, tweaking, trying again, etc.

So why do we not get it?  I’m not saying we drive for failure (although that seems to be the direction of some I’ve noticed….), but, short of life-and-death, why do we not accept that failing is at least as important as not failing?

The next bit in this consideration of learning is, when we fail, why do we not learn from it?  Or at least document it for the purpose of remembering both the effort and the particular circumstance of the effort?  I’ve quoted Ricardo Semler before and this applies, “No two things are as different as two of the same mistakes.”  I interpret that to mean that an event that resolves into a mistake at one particular moment in time in a project may not resolve into a mistake the next time, but you want to be careful anyway.  Some things are relatively immutable (like gravity or fruit on pizza) and can be relied upon to have pretty much the same kind of effect all the time.  Others have variable effects given a different set of circumstances (like, frankly, fruit on pizza…you might actually like it this time).  The argument of “we tried that before and it crashed horribly” may not hold this time.  Or it might.  But learning and not being afraid of failure while simultaneously seeking the most creative answer or solution to a problem give us the chance to show the best we are capable of.

Ask yourself: how successful could we be if we just failed more often?

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3 thoughts on “Fail and Win

  1. It’s just completely counter intuitive. Plus there’s the fear that you failure will waste time and resources. Which you will but I’d argue you’d waste less if learned how to fail and recognize a failure and move on. Plus if you think about your employees as already knowing everything there doesn’t seem to be the need for failure. What business problem does failure serve? It serves learning. Failure should be about creating a learning organization.

    • The old story about Thomas Edison failing miserably while eventually landing on the right recipe for the light bulb is one we trot out to demonstrate the need for failure and persistence, but it’s kind of like “eating your vegetables” sometimes: all for it, believe in it, not real solid on execution and follow-through.

      Thanks for the additional insight!

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