Learning beats failure

Of all the buzzwords that permeate today’s business environment, “failure” is perhaps one of the most misunderstood.

“If you are not failing, you are not trying hard enough.”
“There is no success without failure.”
“We allow our people to fail, failure is the most beautiful thing that could happen.”

You’ve probably heard one version of those sentences, and while they all make sense, they put the emphasis on the wrong aspect of the process.

One of the things about failure is that it’s asymmetrical with respect to time. When you look back and see failure, you say, “it made me what I am!” But looking forward, you think, “I don’t know what is going to happen and I don’t want to fail.” The difficulty is that when you’re running an experiment, it’s forward looking.

Ed Catmull

Nobody wants to or can start a project thinking about failure. It goes against how our mind thinks, and it would be the end of the project itself.

A different approach is to shift the focus on the learnings. What about starting a project saying “I want to learn how this works”, or “I want to find out if A is better than B”, or “I’d be happy if by the deadline we would know something important that we do not know today”.

Organisations should leave space to reflect on what is happening (both failures and wins), to share the results of the reflection, and to give others the possibility to absorb relevant learnings from what somebody else has done (again, good or bad).

“If you are not learning, you are not trying hard enough.”
“There is no success without learning.”
“We allow our people to learn, learning is the most beautiful thing that could happen.”

Much better.

 

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