Seth Godin and Failing Better
All of us fail. Successful people fail often, and, worth noting, learn more from that failure than everyone else.
The first thing that I thought about is how the lean philosophy talks about rapid experimentation using the PDCA cyle. If we are experimenting then by definition we will fail. It is what we learn from these failures that can help us improve and take us to new heights.
Seth mentions two habits that don’t help:
- Getting good at avoiding blame and casting doubt
- Not signing up for visible and important projects
Avoid blaming others is one that we talk about quite frequently with the respect for people pillar of lean.
I really took note of the “not signing up for visible and important projects” habit. I never thought of this as a way to avoid failure, but I can see that it is. We avoid it so we don’t fail in front of important people and hurt our careers, potentially. I know I have done that in the past or even made comments like, “Boy that sucks to be on that project.”
I think the underlying point to this is the culture that exists in the organization. If the culture is to look down upon failures as a very negative thing and to ridicule someone for failing then I can see why people avoid the highly visible and important projects if there is a hint of failure possible. If the culture is such, should this be a place we want to work? Should we take the project and if failure occurs show how that can be spun into a positive? These are not easy questions to ask ourselves and can take a lot of courage to do.
Seth gives a few tips on how to fail better:
- Whenever possible, take on specific projects.
- Make detailed promises about what success looks like and when it will occur.
- Engage others in your projects. If you fail, they should be involved and know that they will fail with you.
- Be really clear about what the true risks are. Ignore the vivid, unlikely and ultimately non-fatal risks that take so much of our focus away.
- Concentrate your energy and will on the elements of the project that you have influence on, ignore external events that you can’t avoid or change.
- When you fail (and you will) be clear about it, call it by name and outline specifically what you learned so you won’t make the same mistake twice. People who blame others for failure will never be good at failing, because they’ve never done it.
I really like #6. If we stand-up and admit when we fail, don’t blame others, and call out what we learned we can start to change the culture of the organization that failure is a bad thing. Not to mention admitting we failed, instead of blaming others, is a leadership trait that usually sticks with people.
Lets take the fear out of failing and as Seth puts it “fail better.”
Posted on April 20, 2011, in Development, Leadership, Learning, Respect for People and tagged Culture, Development, Failure, Leadership, Learning, Respect for People, Seth Godin. Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.