On failure

I’ve heard this point made frequently in KM circles, books and articles; ‘we learn more from failure than from success’.    The idea is that we are much more likely to remember and reflect back  on what went wrong rather than what went right.  However, I’ve never heard of anyone keeping ‘best-failure’ practices or stating a project with a session on ‘let’s remember what went wrong the last time’.   Maybe I’m just not moving in the right circles.

I’ve had some spectacular failures over the years and some modest successes.  Privately, I reflect on the failures but when I’m looking for work I emphasize the successes.  To do otherwise would be ludicrous.  However, I do believe that failure is what makes me want to try harder the next time, ask better questions, plan more carefully, focus the pilot and watch the results more closely.

Here are my tips on how to use failure to your advantage:

  • Small failure is easier to discuss; this is why frequent after action reviews work better than a big ARR at the end
  • Admit it didn’t go well to yourself and then to the team and then to customers and clients
  • Disaster is seldom complete, find the kernel of success and reflect on why at least something worked in this mess
  • Don’t blame someone or some group but you may want to avoid them the next time around

1 Comment »

  1. […] The problem is that we have to acknowledge failure before we can learn from it. That acknowledgment is best when it is ‘to yourself’ but it doesn’t hurt for someone to simply say, “this is wrong, a mistake, a disaster”. I’ve been confronted constantly over the years with people who have an obvious failure but just don’t acknowledge it to themselves and no-one will tell them. Obviously, no effort is then made to try to fix it, try to understand it, etc. This applies to small and huge failures. Examples of small failures are webpages that don’t work but could easily be fixed with a bit of redesign or just simple editing the html code. Examples of big failures are whole system that don’t work but could be analyzed and assessed before banging in the next big system which is likely to fail for almost the same reason. Failure is fine if we can learn from it but what is all too common is that the failure is ignored, forgotten and repeated. I’ve posted on this earlier about how to make it easier to acknowledge failure here. […]

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