Monday, July 07, 2008

Don't try to fail, just try

It's been worrying me a bit, with all my emphasis on learning from mistakes and removing the stigma from making mistakes, that I might be encouraging people to try to make mistakes.

Although making a deliberate mistake can be a very useful exercise and lead a company to discover insights it couldn't find out otherwise, it shouldn't be the focus of your approach.

The point is to try to succeed lots of different ways, make small bets, try "safe-fail" experiments. Follow those that appear to lead somewhere. Ditch the remainder quickly.

More and more people are thinking this way. My evidence? Today's Wall Street Journal Business Insight section, which talks about experimentation and learning from failure throughout. One example is "In Search of Growth Leaders," by Sean Carr, Jeanne Liedtka and others which asserts that managers who can foster growth have different mindsets than those who can't. [A nice graphic in the article compares people who see life as a journey of learning--i.e., potential growth leaders--to those who see it as a test--similar to the work of Carol Dweck referenced by Amy Edmondson in HBR, and discussed in a recent Mistake Bank post.]

There's also "Oops! Accidents lead to more innovations. So how do you create more accidents?" by Robert Austin, Lee Devin and Erin Sullivan--which says to "explore lots of approaches" and "make accidents cheaper" which is safe-fail by other words.

And "Follow the Leaders," by Craig Pearce, which encourages allowing team leadership to shift from member to member based on the needs of a particular part of a project, echoing ideas from the recent HBR article on management lessons from multiplayer online games.

If you do make a mistake, don't throw it away. Learn from it, and put it in the Mistake Bank. The public one, or one of your own.

Related posts:
Multiplayer games demonstrate a new model for leadership
Amy Edmondson in July/Aug HBR
To progress in complex environments, experiment
Make some mistakes, and profit from it


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