Celebrate Learning, Not Failing

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A popular trope in the business (read: tech startup) world over the last decade has been some variation of fail fast or fail forward or move fast and break things. These phrases can be empowering in certain settings and devastating in others. One contingency argues that starting with failure is a recipe for disaster. Another says that failure is the best way to learn. What matters more than what phrases a business uses, though, is what actions are taken. Setting out to fail, as a strategy, is going to bring failure. It’ll promote half thought out developments, low energy, and poor execution. So, instead of setting out to fail, set out to do the best job possible and learn as much as possible while simultaneously being able to support a failure. If a project fails, a launch flops, or service delivery is terrible, look for the lessons. Spend time reflecting honestly, on what happened, what was supposed to happen and where the disconnect was. Failure is not a goal, but it is a catalyst for doing better. Celebrate the new insights when they’re realized.

Hosting a post mortem meeting to go over the details of why something failed is an excellent way to figure out how to not misstep again going forward. Using the five whys (root cause analysis) here is ideal. Placing blame on a person is not the intent; rather the intent is to find the most tangible reasons a project failed and determine the action items going forward. E.g. If a problem was misdiagnosed at the outset leading to a failed solution, the action items might be a new set of exploratory questions to ask at the beginning and an additional 60-90 minutes spent on defining the problem. Get specific.

Having a place to store information that people learn within the company is a great thing to incorporate to learn from one another. Some businesses call it their internal university, others use learning management systems, and others yet may just have a living, shared drive with lessons to share with future additions to the team. Incorporate lessons learned into recurring meetings as needed to share the lessons far and wide.

A sales team, for example, might have lessons on what outbound scripts work best, what value proposition to highlight, or a list of things competitors do or don’t do that can be used when making a sale. Over time, this type of information becomes standard and is included in a normal training process for a new employee. Being able to go look at the context though and see how the “best subject lines” compare to other tried subject lines will help someone learn much more quickly. If data has been collected on response rates to particular subject lines, that can be summarized easily and stored in a shared drive so others can learn from past mistakes.

A quick way to incorporate the celebration of learning is to host a competition over a 2-4 week period and at the end of it, have the competitors go over what worked well for them, what challenges they identified and how they overcame those. The meeting can be transcribed or recorded and stored in a shared drive for easy access. Doing this 2-3x a year will accelerate the entire team’s learning curve as well as increase the chances of a company doing well financially.

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