Culture of Failure?

Do you know Hutch Carpenter?  You should.  He write’s some awesome stuff over at I’m Not Actually a Geek.

Hutch recently wrote a post titled “Apple iPad and Google Buzz: Harsh Reality of Innovation” where he argues (successfully I think) that you’ve got to be OK with failure to really be innovative.

In the article Hutch points at Apple and Google as examples of companies that have amazing successes as well as amazing failures.

Hutch does a great job tying innovation with failure and showing that you’ve got to embrace failure to truly innovate.  It’s a great read.

The best part of the article wasn’t written by Hutch though….it’s a quote from Teddy Roosevelt. This quote really resonates with me and is a perfect addition to this argument. The quote is:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Emphasis mine.

Failure and the CIO

Is it OK for your IT staff to fail?

Have you built the proper culture that allows your teams to step out of bounds and innovate without fear of retribution if the attempt fails?

If you’ve said yes…good for you.  But…what would happen if I asked your team?  Would they say the same?

Think about the last three projects you’ve undertaken.  Have they all been a success?  Have they all been innovative? Can you point to projects that you’ve undertaken that have changed the ‘game’ for your organization?

If you can’t think of any innovative projects that you’ve undertaken recently…perhaps you’ve stepped into the realm of playing it safe.

Culture of Failure?

Nobody likes failure.  I hate it…but I’ve had my fair share of it.  I’ve watched my projects fail and I’ve watched my teams fail.  But…I’ve also seen some amazing things happen by those same teams.

So…am I saying that you should create a culture of failure? Absolutely not.

But I am saying that you need to create a culture that makes it OK to fail.

Ask yourself this question:

Do you want your IT staff to be known as folks that put themselves out there and bring  innovation to the organization….or do you want to be known as the IT group that plays it safe?

It might be easier to play it safe for some, but don’t expect to find and keep the best people if you’re playing it safe.  The best and brightest out there want to work on the ‘cool’ stuff. The ‘new’ stuff.  They don’t want to be relegated to a life of maintaining your COBOL application…they want to build a new app that will make the organization (and world) stand up and take notice.

Build a culture that says failure is OK and you’ll build the potential for a high performance team that can get some great stuff done.  Don’t do this and you’ll be relegated to being the also-ran.

  • You have to wonder where the disconnects are when people like Peter Senge have been outlining the means and the results of doing same for decades.

  • It's an excellent point – one I completely agree with. But I think there's a big disconnect here. You and I, and every other enlightened manager of every stripe can work to build a culture where creative failure is tolerated, but it won't matter a jot if the person one rung up the management chain is insecure about failure.

    I can't imagine a way to persuade a boss or a board to accept any level of failure.

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  • exactly, balance innovation and failure like in a cool Jazz Jam session, to keep issues internal you could challenge your team(s) early enough and allow the excellence to evolve, thus establish, maintain and sustain the flow …

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  • Excellent quote Eric. PS: I wouldn't myself label buzz and the ipad as failure as of yet.

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  • You're exactly right…that's why this type of attitude and culture has to start at the top. How does the mid-level manager push culture to top so it can spread across the organization ? Not sure…

  • You're exactly right…that's why this type of attitude and culture has to start at the top. How does the mid-level manager push culture to top so it can spread across the organization ? Not sure…

  • Thanks…I haven't labeled the iPad a failure either but some are. I think the platform provides some very interesting opportunities in the future.

  • yes! Lots of people preaching about it for years but few organizations really get it.

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