By striving to eliminate all failures or interruptions could we actually be damaging our organization’s ability to react to an unexpected crisis?
By Robin Gaddum
I wonder why organizations are so afraid of failure? In seeking to create resilient organizations we seem to be striving to eliminate all failures or interruptions and I cannot help but wonder if in doing so we might lose something far more valuable and undermine exactly what we seek to create.
I failed at my first attempt to pass my driving test. It hurt my pride and my self-confidence took a knock – I was only seventeen at the time and plenty of my peers passed their driving tests first time. I learnt that I needed more practice and to work harder at improving aspects of my driving skills, which I took to heart and duly passed my driving test on my second attempt. With hindsight, I’m glad the driving test examiner did not pass me first time, when my driving skills were perhaps marginally adequate. The experience of failure brought me up short; made me more diligent; made me really learn. I think it made me a better driver.
Failure and success are intertwined like Yin and Yang. JK Rowling spoke eloquently about how she might never have written the Harry Potter books that made her fortune had she not sunk to such a low point in her life that all that remained was her dream and determination. Richard Branson's successes make it easy to forget that he has lost far more money through failed ventures than most people make in their entire lives. He has a very positive attitude towards failure:
“My mother always taught me never to look back in regret but to move on to the next thing. The amount of time people waste dwelling on failures rather than putting that energy into another project, always amazes me. I have fun running ALL the Virgin businesses - so a setback is never a bad experience, just a learning curve.” [From an interview with The Good Entrepreneur.]
A BBC article earlier this year about a top girls’ school planning ‘failure week’ to teach pupils to embrace risk, build resilience and learn from their mistakes really resonated with my thinking. You can read the article at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-16879336
The lessons I value most have come not from formal education or training courses but from the ‘University of Real Life, School of Hard Knocks’. The sometimes blisteringly hard lessons that test your character and your personal resilience, that seek to break you, that knock you down and challenge you to get back up again. Of course education and training helps, if you’re lucky giving you some insight and skills to face the challenge when it comes, but it’s experiencing and eventually overcoming the challenge itself that embeds learning like no training course ever can. Experience trumps all other forms of learning– a hypothesis backed by evidence in countless job advertisements and interviews in which employers seek someone that’s done the job successfully before. If you work through ‘real life’ challenging experiences, learn from them and use that knowledge to develop and improve yourself then you become a more resilient person, better able to adapt and overcome similar future challenges.
Resilient organizations ‘fail well’. On an organizational level, perhaps we need to design ways in which the organization learns how to fail well instead of seeking to insulate it from all failure. A resilient organization is able to cope with failure rather than seek to avoid it. This means it is better able to learn and adapt to changing circumstances, which will in turn promote its success and resilience over time.
Robin Gaddum MBA FBCI
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•Date: 21st June 2012 • UK/World •Type: Article • Topic: BC general