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.

Top tips to innovate with confidence

Innovation - the anxiety gap

I first met Roland when I was participating in a workshop that he was running in the early days of 100%Open. Then I was a client when they helped the NSPCC (where I worked) with some new thinking and later I went on to work as a freelance associate for 100%Open.

This is how stuff happens. Work gets done when you know people, understand what they do and trust them. Relationships can shift and change over time, but I’ve found that when you want something done you start with going to your trusted network and if you don’t know how to do something you go to your trusted network and find a person that can. So it’s important to build your networks before you need them.

I wanted to share my top take-outs about innovating with confidence from the webinar with Roland.

Not everyone is an extrovert

Innovation workshops where the most extroverted person gets the most air space and the workshop goes in the direction of their ideas aren’t great. That’s why having a good facilitator is important, to ensure that everyone gets to contribute. Roland introduced us to ‘brain writing’ where people write down their ideas to solve a problem on their own first. Then the ideas are shared and discussed. Often there are similar ideas which indicates a shared direction and it means that everyone gets to input from the start.

The 2 pizza rule

Jeff Bezos is accredited with this simple rule to keep groups working on new ideas and projects small. If your group of innovators can eat more than 2 pizzas (assuming that you are dealing with average appetites) then it’s too big!

Innovation is a ‘U shaped’ process

At the start of an innovation process, everyone is enthusiastic and excited. The same happens at the end of the process where a product gets to market. In the middle it can be a whole different story, organisational treacle and antibodies get in the way and we can run out of momentum, budget and energy. (I sometimes refer to this as the curve of doom). The point is, if you know this when you embark on an innovation project it’s helpful, as when you are at the bottom of the U shaped curve you know that there is hope! And that if you persevere that you will come out the other side.

The anxiety gap

This is when expectations don’t match delivery. Usually, in an innovation project the flurry of tangible activity happens near to the delivery date, so reporting on progress can feel slow until the launch. It’s the same feeling as cramming for an exam at the last minute, or pulling an all-nighter to meet a deadline. You deliver but it’s not until the end that delivery can match expectations.

Get people to vote with their feet

In a workshop people are often asked to vote on their favourite idea. Sense check this by asking people what idea they would like to spend time in the workshop developing. If no one wants to work on it there is a disconnect. The idea will struggle to get off the ground if there is no enthusiasm to develop it at the start.
Go as fast as you can. It’s better to get something into the market and test it quickly than keep tinkering around until something is perfect. The best way to make improvements is to get real feedback from real customers.

The ‘How to innovate with confidence webinar with Roland Harwood is part of the exclusive content available to Lucidity Network members.

The Lucidity Network is designed to help you build your networks before you need them and take the lead in getting the results you want. It’s a pick and mix of online and offline practical tools and advice as well as access to a dynamic network of expertise.We’re open for new members a few times a year. Sign up to the waiting list to be the first to know when the Network is open for new members. In the meantime you can join the Lucidity Community free Facebook group  for clearer thinking and better results.  

 

Failure – it’s the real thing

Failure is inevitable if you are doing anything remotely new. Failure is also fairly certain if you keep doing what you’ve always done in a fast changing world.

It’s a human tendency to hope for the best and try to avoid failure at all costs. So when we are asked to embrace failure as positive learning it’s no wonder most of us feel like we want to run away and hide.

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. Henry Ford

One of my favourite (?!) learning from failure stories is from Coca-Cola.

In 1985 in response to its declining market share and the increasing popularity of its key rival Pepsi, Coca-Cola launched New Coke.

Do you remember the ‘Pepsi Challenge’?

At the time Pepsi’s advertising campaigns were based around asking the public if they could taste the difference between Pepsi and Coke. They could – and they preferred the taste of Pepsi.

In response Coke developed a new sweeter tasting formula.  After conducting over 200.000 taste tests, which according to the taste testers not only tasted better than the old Coke, but also tasted better than Pepsi, New Coke was ready for launch.

However on 23 April 1985 when New Coke was launched and old Coke was taken out of circulation it was a disaster. Customers were horrified that their Coke had been changed. Some people likened the change in Coke to trampling the American flag. A black market for old Coke emerged, at a market value of $30 a case.  On July 11, Coca-Cola withdrew New Coke and reinstated old Coke.

So what happened?

We did not understand the deep emotions of so many of our customers for Coca-Cola said company President Donald R. Keough.

The development of New Coke was all about taste and overlooked the importance of the relationship customers had with the brand. Until the launch of New Coke, Coca-Colas’ brand had been about its ‘original’ status. For example in 1942, magazine adverts in the United States declared: ‘The only thing like Coca-Cola is Coca-Cola itself. It’s the real thing.’

If you tell the world you have the ‘real thing’ you cannot then just come up with a ‘new real thing’. To make matters worse, since 1982, Coke’s strap line had been ‘Coke is it’. Now it was telling customers that actually coke wasn’t it, but New Coke was now ‘it’ instead.

Coca-Cola were fighting a taste battle with Pepsi in response to Pepsi’s marketing campaign. What Coca-Cola overlooked was that the battle was not about taste, and they underestimated the value of brand loyalty and the heritage of Coca-Cola.

Ironically, through the brand failure of New Coke, loyalty to ‘the real thing’ intensified and Coke recovered its market position with old Coke, repositioned as Coke Classic. Some conspiracy theorists say the whole campaign had been planned in order to reaffirm public loyalty for Coca-Cola. But whether it was planned or not, the fail of New Coke affirmed the value of the brand and with that insight Coke went onto retake its leading market position.

New Coke was a public failure. There was no running away or hiding. However Coke learned an important lesson about its brand value and its customers.

How many less public failures are happening in your organisation that no one ever learns from? How many times do they secretly get repeated wasting time and money?

If you’d like some help in creating an organisational culture that encourages and supports learning from failure so that your organisation can grow and your people are happier then drop us a line.

If you like this blog you might like the new Lucidity Network. It’s designed specifically to help you take the lead in getting the results you want. It’s a pick and mix of online and offline practical tools and advice as well as access to a dynamic network of expertise.

We’re open for new members a few times a year. Sign up to the waiting list to be the first to know when the Network is open for new members. In the meantime you can join the Lucidity Community free Facebook group  for clearer thinking and better results.  

Failure – it’s emotional

The principle that we learn from failure makes sense. Understanding why something hasn’t worked prevents us (hopefully) from making the same mistakes again and helps us to adapt and progress. However in practice it’s really hard to admit that we failed. We don’t like it. It’s emotional. It can feel painful.

We have opportunities to achieve great success if we can create environments or ways of working that allow us to test ideas, learn from failure, adapt quickly, test again and keep learning.

There is a renowned story about the charity Greenpeace and their ‘Dog’s Bollocks Award’ ceremony, where staff shared their failures. By encouraging staff to spotlight what didn’t work, Greenpeace achieved two key things:

  • Helping staff from around the world learn from each others’ mistakes
  • Demonstrating to staff that a certain level of risk and failure is acceptable, as long as the lessons are publicly acknowledged and not swept under the carpet

A team I worked with recently now has a ‘fail yea!’ slot on their monthly meeting. It deliberately forces people to consider and share what didn’t work so well, in order to help each other develop better solutions for next time. Pitched as a positive, ‘fail yea!’ has helped them develop their work, particularly around their events programme which has improved significantly because they were honest, challenged themselves on areas for improvement and were supportive to sharing and learning as a team.

Creating a safe environment where people can share and learn from failure is not easy, but it will lead to better results and help to prevent failures from being replicated. Here are five practical things that you can do to get started.

  1. Acknowledge that failure is emotional and a shift in mindset is required to even begin to address failure.
  2. Lead by example and start to share your own failures. Focus on what you have learned and what you will do differently next time.
  3. Ask your team and colleagues for their ideas about ways to make sharing failure and learning part of everyone’s day-to-day work.
  4. Consider a structured way to feedback and record failures, it might be a slot on a team meeting, or a part of a project group debrief, it could be awards or an online learning space to share failure. However you do it the focus is on the learning not the failure.
  5. Start right now and if it doesn’t work then adapt and try again – see point 2.

If you have other ways that are helping you learn from failure, please do share, either in the comments below or by email.