Blog

Make failure your friend

make failure your friend

Failure is one of those topics where there’s a big gap between knowing and doing. Rationally we know that it’s OK if we are doing our best, to fail, because by failing we learn valuable lessons that lead us to success in the future.

Yet, failure is not rational. Failure is highly emotional. Remember the last time that you failed at something that was important to you. How did it feel? Most likely it felt horrible. I know that if I’ve failed badly I almost can’t bear to talk about it and dissect it until a bit of time has passed and the pain has resided.

However, as Richard pointed out, it’s the ability to talk about the failure when you are still feeling it that has the potential to lead to the biggest learning. Like with many things its easier said than done, you need to have people to talk to in confidence about failure and work in an environment where you don’t fear the repercussions of failure.

Here are my eight take-aways from the interview

Make failure your friend and work on reframing your mindset on how you view failure. It’s not the enemy to be avoided. If treated with respect, failure can be your friend.

Tell stories of the failures in your organisation to help others learn. Tell stories to all your audiences, customers, supporters, internal teams. The learning from failure is more readily remembered and more importantly implemented as a story than facts and figures.

Set a BHAG. A Big Hairy Audacious Goal. This goal works best when it is organisation wide, however, if setting the organisation’s BHAG is not in your remit set your team one – or set an individual one. Setting a BHAG forces you to think differently. If your goal is to double sales you approach the task very differently than if your goal is to increase sales by 5%. A BHAG also shifts expectations. You are all working to smash your BHAG, however, if you fall short, it’s highly likely that you will have done better than the 5% incremental change.

Like Oscar Wilde said; ‘Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you’ll land amongst the stars’

Give yourself and your team permission to fail. This is also easier when you have a BHAG. You can’t just tell people they have permission, you have to lead by example. For example, you might share learning from failure as a regular agenda item at team meetings. Everyone should have something to share, after all, if no one is learning from failure they are not pushing themselves hard enough to reach that BHAG. BHAG’s don’t just achieve themselves.

Go for a walk. The single best way I’ve found to clear my head, think straight and be more creative is to go for a walk. It can help you think through problems or if you take a colleague it can help you talk through problems.

With hindsight, Hindsight is a great thing. If I could choose a superhero power I’d be ‘Hindsight Hero’. EVERYTHING is easier with hindsight but we don’t have a crystal ball so the best we have is learning from failure. Your learning from failure is someone else’s hindsight – but only if you’re brave enough to share it.

Back to mindset. Start to frame problems in a more positive way. Rather than ‘This doesn’t work’ or ‘We tried that and it didn’t work’ ask ‘How might we make this work?’

And finally, construct your failure resume. List your career steps from the failures that have led you to where you are now.

The interview with Richard Turner can be watched at the Lucidity Network which is a pick and mix of online and offline learning and connection to a dynamic network of people that can help you. We’re open for new members a few times a year. Join the Lucidity Community Facebook group to get in the Lucidity groove for clearer thinking and better results and be the first to hear when the Lucidity Network is open for members.

Why do we still hide failure?

When I told some ten ‘Health Product People’ in ‘Conference Room One’ that they had to be able to make mistakes — they paid attention.

This elite group of government and NHS digital product developers and leaders had met to share a presentation on methods to evaluate the progress and direction of their digital projects, and to learn from the experience of the leader.

The leader had made the point that if it became necessary, one must, and he had ‘pulled the plug’ on an expensive digital development project because it was clear that the direction was not leading to achievement. This was clearly a difficult thing to do, with the ‘press’ so keen to ‘be at their heels’, but he and ‘they’ had pulled the project.

Hiding failure is still major in our culture, in the NHS, in academia and the corporate world and social sector. So what those specialists were advocating was not only hugely important but still often incredibly difficult for hidden cultural reasons, like scapegoating, losing face or your job … They needed to be reassured of doing the right thing, and aware of why such decisions may seem to be SO difficult.

I have been demoted for whistleblowing in my career and seen many examples of inconvenient issues being covered up, but I could have told of when, in 1970, the senior medical officer of a blue chip company had given an injection incorrectly — and I had needed to tell him.

The effect of the too-quick-effects of that injection would probably have given the patient a fever for a few hours, but not done any major harm, other patients should be spared that experience! In the 1950’s I had seen similar doses of the same vaccine used to induce fever in patients with skin conditions.

I was shocked when he reacted by urgently telling me not to tell anyone about what had happened. That anyone, especially a senior doctor, should be so afraid as a result of someone knowing that he had made a mistake is wrong.

Fortunately, especially among major corporate digital developers, having to halt a development is recognised as being better, cheaper than trying to keep it going when it should be stopped. The press, unfortunately, still enjoy publicising expensive failures, and the public sector is especially exposed to ‘the press’.

The culture is being changed, it has to be.

There are major efforts to make it safe for staff to acknowledge mistakes in health care, without that, improvements are delayed. Scapegoats are still far too common as was the case with Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba who recently won her appeal against being struck off. No one should have to suffer so unjustly.

We who have to make decisions in our work will make mistakes. I hope that we will have leaders who will be constructive when we acknowledge that. In any event, there may be HR people or other professionals and in Lucidity Network we have a group of supportive and experienced professionals to consult.

If we lead our organisations, can we offer suitable supportive environment for our people to ‘fail quickly’ and ‘safely’ and move on? What is the policy and is it robust enough? Successful organisations have such policies and practice them.

If you would like to be part of a network of dynamic professionals, making mistakes and making improvements check out the Lucidity Network. It’s a pick and mix of online and offline practical tools and advice as well as access to a dynamic network of expertise to help you take the lead in getting the results you want. We are open to members several times a year. Sign up here to join the waiting list. 

Genevieve Hibbs

Genevieve M Hibbs former: nurse (general and occupational health), midwife, Christian missionary, lecturer, elected councillor, mayor and a member of the Lucidity Network.

Innovation for introverts

Innovation for introverts

I know it might be surprising I feel like this, given I run training on networking and I lead the Lucidity Network (which involves networking). Perhaps the reason I do both of these things is because I know how important networking is to pretty much everything and also how difficult it can be, so I just want to make it as easy and pain-free as possible for people.

I define introversion and extroversion as where you get your energy from. As an introvert, I get my energy from being by myself. Extroverts get their energy from other people. You’re not stuck in an introvert or extrovert box though. It’s like a spectrum. I sit towards the middle of the introvert side of the spectrum, and I can switch on my inner extrovert when needed, for example, if I’m at a conference, running training or presenting. I just have to go home afterwards and be on my own to refuel.

One isn’t better than the other, it’s just useful to understand your own preferences and those of the people you work with so you can adapt your communication to get the best out of both introverts and extroverts.

Last week I prized myself off my sofa into the cold and dark November night to go to the 100%Open Union networking event on innovation for introverts.

Here’s what I took away

When it comes to innovation introverts come into their own.

  • They have no need for external affirmation
  • They make order out of chaos
  • They are the best listeners
  • They connect disparate dots that may save the business.

 

To get better results make sure you are engaging both introverts and extroverts.

Here’s how;

Often it’s just the loudest people that get listened to. If you manage a team make sure you make space for introverts to be heard. This takes the form of great facilitation and good planning, for example, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to speak in meetings and structuring ideas sessions with some tasks that people can do on their own.

A web-based platform or community is a good way to solicit ideas from everyone (we heard from Waitrose and how this approach has lead to a range of new business ideas).

Offer quiet zones at work especially if you work in an open plan office

Encourage introverts to lead, chair meetings, present on topics, lead projects.

Become aware of the loudest voices, encourage them but do not allow them to be the only voice that is heard.

Let me know how you get on.

I’ve designed the Lucidity Network to be a place for introverts and extroverts. It’s a pick and mix of online and offline learning and connection to a dynamic network of people that can help you. We’re open for new members a few times a year. Join the Lucidity Community Facebook group to get in the Lucidity groove for clearer thinking and better results and be the first to hear when the Lucidity Network is open for members.

One simple tool to help you solve any problem

Have you ever had the experience where the same challenges keep coming up again and again? Whether that be in one to ones or in team meetings after a while these things get you down and you lose perspective or energy to solve them.

In my last job I managed a large remote team, we met together about 6 times a year. I used to sit in the day long meetings and note down everyone’s problems and take on the burden of solving them. I left the team meetings drained, stressed and quite honestly depressed. While my team left feeling upbeat and positive because they had unloaded everything. However, their initial relief soon faded when they realised that I wasn’t actually going to solve their problems. Just a quick aside – if this is a challenge you have – read: The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Ken Blanchard.

So, how do you solve this problem and indeed all the problems of your team? During my last three months in the job I took on a new team, a team that had lots of challenges. I knew that I had a short period of time to support them and that taking on their problems wasn’t going to help. I needed to empower them and give them the tools to problem solve.

The team was a small team in a charity responsible for looking after supporters – they were saying they were overworked and couldn’t take on a bigger caseload.  By looking at the problem in a more abstract way you start to unlock the root cause of the problem and frame it differently.

This is where the Ladder of Abstraction comes in. As you go up the ladder the thinking becomes more abstract and down the ladder thinking becomes more concrete. To move up the ladder you ask WHY and down the ladder you ask HOW. It is a useful tool to help describe our language and thoughts and re-label a problem. It can be used in many different ways but I have found it useful for problem solving and evaluating activity.

So how does it work?

You take your problem and start at the bottom of the ladder. For each statement you keep asking WHY. Eventually you get to a root cause of the problem and then you can work your way back down the ladder asking HOW. If you start with how you miss the opportunity to re-label the problem and you take it at face value. So, in the example below the problem is “We do not have enough capacity”, you might jump to – we need to recruit more staff or maybe we need to change a process or reduce workload. But you might be unsure which process to change or simply providing more capacity might not actually solve the problem – exploring the why helps you get to grips with this.

One simple tool to help you solve any problem

By using this simple tool we thought the problem was that the team didn’t have enough capacity but then we realised that we didn’t need to discuss every supporter together but that we could set aside a set time to creatively discuss specific challenges. This also helped the team focus on the solution and not the problem.

I have also used this tool personally to reflect on how a project or piece of work went – this is particularly useful if you feel that the project failed in some way. You could use the ‘What Went Well’ and ‘Even Better If’ method Better If’ method, which is useful. But the Ladder of Abstraction helps you to explore more deeply WHY things went wrong and then HOW you would do things differently in the future. It also makes it less personal because you can look at it objectively from a more abstract viewpoint.

I hope that this simple tool can help you unlock your thinking, solve problems and learn from failure. Used enough, asking WHY becomes second nature.

Emily Petty

 

Emily Petty, a member of the Lucidity Network, is a fundraising and change consultant. She is passionate about helping charities build a relationship led approach to fundraising and supporting them to unlock potential and manage change. You can find her on Twitter @EmilyPetty1 and on LinkedIn

 

If you’d like to develop your thinking and get better results check out the Lucidity Network. We’re open a few times a year. There is more information about joining the Network here

In the meantime get involved at the Lucidity Facebook Community – a free resource for clearer thinking and better results.

The tale of the bent fork and a lesson in collaborative problem solving

You don’t really expect to be drinking white wine in balmy afternoon sunshine in mid-October in the Baltics. But luck (or global warming!) were on our side last month and that’s just what Lucy and I were doing one sunny Sunday afternoon.

Lucy had joined me on one of the legs of my ‘EU Adventure’, a personal travel challenge to visit all the EU member states before the 29th March next year (don’t mention the B word!). We’d had a busy couple of days tramping round Vilnius before a super early start to catch the coach to Riga. After walking round the city for a couple of hours we found ourselves a sunny spot and settled down for something cold, white and dry. I chucked my canvas bag on the spare chair next to.

Clunk

Hearing that my phone had fallen out of my bag I leaned down to pick it up. I couldn’t see it. I shuffled round in my seat. Still no sign of it. I doubled myself down and looked right under my seat. A dawning realisation. “Oh no!” In a ridiculous I-couldn’t-do-that-again-if-I-tried turn of events, my phone had slipped out of my bag and right down through a gap in the decking. Decking that was secured to the main city square and currently home to a few hundred Sunday diners. And there it sat, shining up at us, visible through a gap that not even a child’s fingers would fit through, never mind ours.

We sat there for a while, giggling in disbelief. Then Lucy took control, beckoned over the waitress and over the next 45 minutes or so what played out in a square in Europe was a textbook case study in how different people behave in a crisis.

Waitress: “If this had happened in two weeks’ time it would be OK because we take the decking up on 28th October.”* She leaves saying she’ll come back with equipment.

*This is not useful information to know but in all problem situations there’s always someone who tells you how things wouldn’t be this bad if something else had or hadn’t happened. Stay calm.

Lucy and table neighbour man 1 and table neighbour man 2 have a chat about how the decking is put together. I sit there and look at my phone in the manner of a golden retriever puppy who stares at the garden shed, not quite believing his ball has rolled under there and got lost*. Table neighbour man 2 wanders off.

*There’s always someone for whom it takes a bit longer for the reality of the problem to sink in, who just observes for a while.

Waitress returns with some knives and forks. She drops to her knees and frantically fruitlessly starts stabbing away at the gap. After a few minutes she discards the cutlery saying she has another idea and she’ll be back. She never returns.*

*Don’t worry, it’s nothing you did wrong – there’ll always be people who dive enthusiastically and then get distracted by something else (in her case waitressing, which was the job she was actually there to do and don’t forget business as usual needs to carry on when other problems are being solved.)

Lucy, table neighbour man 1 and I get down on our knees and take over the fruitless stabbing with cutlery. We lose a knife down the gap. Table neighbour man 2 returns and in the manner of someone trying to cut a dodgy deal pulls back his coat to reveal a screwdriver. “Brilliant!” says Lucy. “Oh my God, that’s a ridiculous idea,” thinks me*. Not wanting to be discouraging I say “Oh wow, that’s a good idea but these are Phillips screws and that’s a flat head screwdriver.” Never have I been so grateful for screwdriver knowledge.

*Be risk aware. Never set about solving a problem if solving it will just create an even bigger one! Like damaged public property…

By now we have attracted quite a lot of attention and people around us are watching us, amused, offering words of support and adding the odd pointless observation. “C’mon, let’s forget this and drink our wine,” I say. Table neighbour man 1 retreats, a disappointed look on his face. Lucy and I settle back in our chairs. I start running through the problem. “I’ve been uploading my photos to Instagram as I go, the phone is being upgraded on 3rd November and until then I have a spare handset. I’ll find somewhere to print off my boarding pass for getting home.”*

*Be realistic about the likely impact of the problem and if it’s not that big a deal (or if the problem is unsolvable) just move on to thinking about how to solve the ripple effect problems.

But sometimes, you just don’t want to give up. I got back down and started some more focused cutlery manoeuvres. I managed to get the phone stood up on one side with the aid of a knife on either side. I was trying to concentrate but Lucy was busy throwing ideas out. “When you talk at me I lose my concentration and drop it again,” I said, which was really just a polite way of saying shut up*.

*Try not to tell people to shut up, even if they’re your mate.

And I should have been listening because her idea was great. “You need a grabber,” she said, fashioning one from a fork. We had our solution but there was a final moment of jeopardy! Table neighbour man 1 was back but in his enthusiasm to help he kept knocking my phone over just as it had been leveraged into the upright position and pushing it further away from the gap. I was losing patience and as I opened my mouth I glanced at Lucy – she was shaking her head and giving me ‘don’t snap at him eyes’.*

*Manage yourself and don’t get cross with your most enthusiastic problem solvers, even if they are a bit chaotic occasionally!

Then it all came together and with one of us holding the grabber and the other two holding a knife on either side my phone emerged. We cheered, the tables around us cheered. We were momentarily immersed in that wonderful feeling of solidarity than comes from a successful shared endeavour. And table neighbour man 1 was so happy. He looked puffed up and proud and excited in a way that felt a bit out of proportion, really. And I was so damn relieved that 90 seconds earlier I hadn’t lost my cool and burst his bubble. We ordered two glasses of wine for us and a bottle for his table and we all sat enjoying the last remnants of the sun.

“I’ll write a blog for you when we’re back”, I said as we wandered off, “it will be about collaborative problem solving.”

Catherine Raynor is a director of Mile 91, a story gathering agency for charities and social change organisations. You can find her on Twitter at @catherineraynor and on LinkedIn and she’s particularly enjoying meetings loads of inspiring new people through Lucidity Network so feel free to connect with her.

If you’d like to meet inspiring people like Catherine – join the Lucidity Network. We open for new members a few times a year. Join the waiting list today and you’ll be the first to know when it’s open for new members.

While you’re waiting why not join the Lucidity Community Facebook group for practical advice and support for solving problems and getting better results.