I’ve noticed that many management/business blog posts and articles I’ve read recently have focused on ‘the F word’…. failure. It seems that failure (or at least talking/writing about failure) is ‘in’. The entire April 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review was devoted to the topic of failure and The Economist is talking about ‘the failure fashion’.
More and more business leaders and management writers are realising that failure is a necessary (and even desirable) part of innovation. To innovate means to try new things, to have a go. But anytime we try something new there is a risk that it won’t turn out as we hope or expect, and that we’ll get it wrong. But as Ken Robinson notes in his humorous, inspiring and powerful TED talk “if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
While we might know that risking failure is part of the innovation process, there’s still something quite uncomfortable about it (the title of this blog post pretty much sums it up – ‘Failure Sucks But Instructs‘). To me, failure is kind of like debt. It’s what you do with it that determines whether or not it’s a positive or negative thing – whether or not is allows you to grow and build, or weakens and depletes you. So, with that in mind, here are a few articles that may be helpful in thinking about how we build our own resilience to and understanding of failure (and that of our staff) to ensure that it positively enhances our personal and organisational innovation capability.
- In this article, Seth Godin points out that not all failures are the same and proposes a hierarchy of failure from ‘good all the way’ to ‘please don’t’! A hierarchy of failure worth following – http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2010/07/a-hierarchy-of-failure.html
- And in another post, Seth shares six ideas to help you fail better, more often and with an inevitably positive upside. How to fail – http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2011/04/how-to-fai.html
- Dealing with failure is part of being a leader. Rather than expend enormous energy to avoid it, this HBR blog post (part of the recent failure series) suggests you should build an organisation that is resilient in the face of inevitable failures by taking the following three steps: create a culture of sharing failures as well as successes, reward the act of risk-taking, and define the limits. For fans of good stories, this post also has a great story about how Domino’s Pizza admitted and addressed a major failure. The Art of Admitting Failure – http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/03/the_art_of_admitting_failure.html
- On the topic of good stories, in this post regular HBR contributor and master storyteller Peter Bregman shares a personal story about kayaking rapids in the Grand Canyon to highlight the power of visualising failure. Visualize Failure – http://blogs.hbr.org/bregman/2011/03/visualize-failure.html
There are many other HBR blog posts published as part of the special issue on failure which are listed here – http://hbr.org/special-collections/spotlights/2011/apr
The Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research’s Innovation Blog has also recently published a piece (and started a discussion) about how we share lessons from failure – http://innovation.govspace.gov.au/2011/04/15/how-do-we-share-lessons-from-failures/.