November 13, 2014

messy cabinets

Avoid the hype around failure, just learn from it. Credit: Thomas Claveirole / Flickr Creative Commons

Let’s face it: failure is trendy. Everyone’s talking about it – Joi Ito, Tavis Smiley, and even Richard Branson have all openly embraced failure as a key to success.
 
Even though the failures of a CEO are quite different than those of, say, a data entry specialist, many people find stories about tough times compelling.
 
But it's a lot easier to accept — and admire — Steve Jobs' missteps when you know about Apple's ultimate success. “The story we tell at the end is not the story we experience in the middle,” says Anjali Sastry, who teaches at MIT Sloan and co-authored "Fail Better: Design Smart Mistakes and Succeed Sooner."

When you're in the moment of failing, all those happy endings seem pretty far away. The important thing, argues Sastry, is not to buy into the buzz — but learn to fail in the right way.
 
She argues that a smart failure “reveals something new about the world that’s useful to you and your team,” while a dumb failure shows “you haven’t thought things through.”
 
Non-profits, Sastry believes, are uniquely positioned to turn their failures into productive learning experiences. Engineers Without Borders Canada publishes an annual failure report that “does legitimize the extraction of lessons from failure, and the act of even preparing for that report writing has turned into a learning tool within the organization.”
 
Even Martin Luther King, Jr. relied on time-tested techniques to learn from his failures. Most importantly, he and his advisors "spent a summer in Albany, Georgia, trying various efforts that didn’t pan out.” After giving it several months, they “really spent some time reflecting on figuring out what they had learned.”

failure, Culture, Anjali Sastry

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