How often do we hear that we learn more from our failures than our successes, that if we do not fail sometimes, we have not done enough, and that an innovative, exciting culture embraces failure? Thomas Watson Senior, creator of IBM once said “the fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate.”
So how is it that we rarely see failure really celebrated if it is so productive? Such celebration is very rare in my experience.
An Canadian NGO, Engineers Without Borders has broken the mould, and published their “Failure Report” and attracted considerable attention, this article in the Guardian outlines the background.
How brave is that?
NGO’s depend for their funding from groups that you would expect to be pretty risk averse, they would hate to see their donations seemingly wasted, and admitting failure is on the surface at least, admitting to waste and potentially putting their funding at risk.
I wonder what would happen if Australia’s public companies were publish their own failure reports?
Rio Tinto’s foray into Aluminum , Harvey Norman missing the on line shopping revolution, Woolworths finally admitting Dick Smith had turned feral, James Hardie and asbestosis, Eddie and the Labor party, the list goes on. We get outside analysis, sometimes the entrails of failure are exhumed by legal processes, but never do we get the honest, gut-felt, reactions of those involved in the decision making examining their behavior, and taking responsibility for the failures. All we hear is the spin of the successes, and the message that the protagonists are all seeing, all knowing, who only act in the interests of others. Ducking of responsibility has become a management core capability, “I cannot recall” the last refuge of the villain.
How much better if we did as we say we should do, and celebrated failure as a part of the learning process, and that intelligent analysis of the reasons for failure, and the resetting expectations makes for a healthy culture.