Try, Fail, Own, Learn – Part 1 of 2




There’s something in the air…

I’ve been involved an interesting series of workshop engagements recently (mix of Enterprise 2.0 and Innovation) which made me stop and pause to think about what’s transpired to my own approach to work over the last few years.

I’m going to cover this in a two part series…

Try, Fail, Own, Learn… Part 1

Can’t Improve What You Won’t Acknowledge

An article in The Economist (“Fail Often, Fail Well“) and a Discussion in the Design Thinking group on LinkedIn collided for me recently.

The Design Thinking discussion came first – and to respect the privacy of the group, I won’t quote from the discussion with direct attribution.

The gist of the conversation was around an issue of the group members discussing, essentially  “Why isn’t Design Thinking recognized and appreciated by more people?”

Part of the discussion was on the “brand name” of Design Thinking, and part of it around the lack of more widely accepted credentials, such a degrees, in Design Thinking vs. more traditional skills or roles such as Accounting, Law, Medicine, and the like.

One member described the frustration at being a “guiding force” type of manager within his organization, but frequently received no credit for providing a Design Thinking approach to getting things done in projects and meetings. My response to him focused on whether there were incentives, across members of a team …

Failure, Bias, Learning, Controversy

Nobody really wants to fail, but admitting that nothing is perfect, and explicitly addressing the fact that there is always room for improvement (sometimes dramatic improvement, as the ship might be sinking) has *real* implications for organizations. From The Economist article, one paragraph in particular that stood out for me, was:

A more tolerant attitude to failure can also help companies to avoid destruction. When Alan Mulally became boss of an ailing Ford Motor Company in 2006 one of the first things he did was demand that his executives own up to their failures. He asked managers to colour-code their progress reports—ranging from green for good to red for trouble. At one early meeting he expressed astonishment at being confronted by a sea of green, even though the company had lost several billion dollars in the previous year. Ford’s recovery began only when he got his managers to admit that things weren’t entirely green.

And which of the major American Automotive manufacturers both owned  up to their fragility in the 2008-2010 economy and also refused to take the easy way out and get bailed out?

That’s right, Ford Motor Company.

Turns out they did make a better, faster horse than the others in the game, eh?

One of the comments to The Economist article, from Tom Agan, a Managing Director at Nielsen Research, was:

According to a study we did at Nielsen across consumer packaged goods companies in the US, companies that learn from their innovation successes and failures by having standardized post mortems and a knowledge management system average between 60 and 100% more revenue from new products than those that do not. But only a relatively low percentage of companies take these high impact steps. The real challenge is overcoming the internal organization barriers that hinder learning. – Tom Agan

Well look at that, 60-100% more revenue from new products through Knowledge Management.

For those of you who wonder what good is “Knowledge Management?,” or who go on and on about  how “Knowledge Management is Dead” (or it was always broken, or Wikis are the One True Way, etc.) – let’s stop focusing on labels, trends, and details that don’t matter.

Call it whatever you want – but I’ll take real (and massive) results any day of the week over bickering about what term we should use.

No Blame? Less Pain

You either want to own your future, and do something about it, or you’re playing the blame game.

Or perhaps even worse, you’re a bump on a log, waiting for someone else to take responsibility.

If discussions in your business are focused on blaming the technology, the economy, competitors, minions, colleagues, bosses, executives, customers or anything other than yourself and the responsibilities you *could* take, if you were willing to face your problems and deal with them, my advice to you is two fold.

  1. Wake-up and realize if nobody is willing to rock the boat to call attention to real problems and not the surface indicators, it’s only a matter of time before your organization is doomed. It’s time to beef up your personal social networking strategy to bail out and create a new position for yourself (and on a personal level, I’d be happy to help – LinkedIn has been a great resource for me since 2003/2004).
  2. Decide to act on getting results and focusing on the jobs to be done, rather than blaming. As I told a potential employer a few years ago “I’m the kind of guy who sees a piece of trash on the floor and picks it up. Please, tell me now if this is the kind of environment that wants people to do what needs to get done, or only ‘does their job.'” (I didn’t end up taking the job, among other reasons, because the answer to that question was not what I was looking for.)

Get things done, fix problems, search for opportunities, and keep your improvement radar tuned so you can live to fight another day.

Where are you in your learning cycle?

Are you sitting things out, or:

  1. Trying?
  2. Failing?
  3. Owning?
  4. Learning?
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