We all talk about innovation in our technology sector. That means trying new things in order to create new things. But couple that drive to innovate with being “sensitive” when it comes to taking responsibility for things that “don’t work” or being “risk averse” where there is high likelihood of missteps and you might see that there is a problem. It was Einstein who said: “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new”. More humorously Thomas Edison purportedly said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” But he also is quoted as saying: “I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” Or “Show me a thoroughly satisfied man, and I will show you a failure.”
So why is it that in many cultures we fail to own our failures, going to great pains to sweep under the proverbial rug, things that are not glowing successes? If we don’t learn from our failures we are destined to repeat them.
From our industry Bill Gates is quoted as saying: “Once you embrace unpleasant news not as negative but as evidence of a need for change, you aren’t defeated by it. You’re learning from it.”
Bill Gates. (n.d.). QuotesWave.com. Retrieved September 17, 2013, from
QuotesWave.com. Website: http://www.quoteswave.com/picture-quotes/300462
Owning failure isn’t only about turning the failure into a success. It can also include acknowledging the pain and sometimes understanding that a failed attempt might indicate a venture that needs to be aborted. Knowing when to cut your losses and change course is also a valuable skill.
In that spirit of learning, embracing, owning failure, I’d like to invite the community to share experiences here. My friend and colleague Greg Chase called it the “Fail Confessional”. And rather than a confession, let us think of these conversations as learning opportunities for others.
Here are some good links to whet your appetite:
We will host a series of FAILfaire events at the SAP TechED 2013 where we will explore how to relate to failure and gain inspirations from the shared
experiences of a number of outstanding speakers. We will learn how to create a safe environment for speaking openly of failure.
*Note: Additional thoughts on Failure and Accountability can be found here: How Blame Impacts Failure and Impedes Innovation