Learning from Failure

The Slow Leadership blog has an interesting post about “Practicing Conscious Incompetence“. What is Conscious Incompetence? In a nutshell, it is the act of learning from failure, but Slow Leadership defines it as:

“Conscious Incompetence” is doing something that you know you can’t yet do, let alone do well, for the purpose of learning how to do it better. It’s allowing yourself to make a mess and get things wrong, because you’ll never know how to do better until you get past that point. And it’s the basis of all learning. If you can’t allow yourself to make mistakes and probably look silly doing it; if you can’t allow yourself to attempt what you know you won’t be able to do at first; if you can’t allow yourself to take the risk of screwing up; then you also can’t allow yourself to learn or develop.

Its refreshing to see others talk about something that I’ve always believed in. All the theory in the world is worth very little if someone doesn’t apply it in the real world…and applying theory usually results in failure somewhere. Every person and organization should have the strength to step up, try something and move on if it fails.

Leaders should understand that their organization should embrace failure when it happens. The failure should be accepted, dissected to understand the reasons behind it, and then the organization should recover from the failure and move forward. Lora Banks sums it up nicely when she writes in her blog post titled ‘Leadership Skill: Recover, Don’t Persevere“:

The big difference between persevering and recovering through failure is that recovery requires a pause and a conscious choice about where you go from here based on what you have learned from failing. Webster defines persevering as, “to go on resolutely or stubbornly in spite of opposition, importunity, or warning”.  Recovery is about fully stepping in, once again, to your leadership and moving forward with the new information rather than in spite of the learning.

According to a story recounted in a newsletter from the New & Improved website, Warren Buffett, the semi-celebrity CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, the act of making a mistake (and failing) is essential to the decision making process. Mr Buffett once told David Sokol, the CEO of a Berkshire Hathaway controlled company, that:

David, we all make mistakes. If you don’t make mistakes, you can’t make decisions.

This comment was after Mr. Sokol told Buffett that they would have to write off $360 million for the year due to a project that didn’t work out as expected.

Not many companies can afford $360 million mistakes, Would you or your organization respond to a mistake of such magnitude in this same manner? What would happen if you were a CEO of a $10 million company and you were told by one of your VP’s that the $3 million R&D project was a failure? Would you try to assign blame and fire the VP or would you take a step back and dissect the failure and move forward with the ‘lessons learned’ from the project?

A person/organization who truly understands the art of learning from and recovering from failure should be stronger after living through the failure…as long the failure isn’t a ‘deadly’ one that pushes the organization/person into bankruptcy. A person/organization who learns from their failures should never have a ‘deadly’ failure because they’ve already learned what not to do from smaller failures and should be able to avoid the large ones.

[tags] Change, Innovation, creativity, learning from failure, learning by failling [/tags]

Planning for Expatriate Success

This is an excerpt from a paper I wrote while working on my MBA.To read the entire article, download the PDF “Planning for Expatriate Success.”

The modern day business environment requires organizations to compete on a global scale. In order to compete on a global scale, organizations must implement proper strategic plans to ensure that they remain competitive in the international markets. To ensure success, an organization must have a global strategic plan that covers all aspects of the business, including a globally conscious human resources strategy.

Global competition more often than not requires an organization to rethink their strategic plans. This reformulation of strategy must be done to ensure that products and services are tailored to the culture and environment of the region they are operating in. In the book titled International Assignments: An Integration of Strategy, Research, and Practice, the author’s provide insight into the specialized skills needed in the global environment when they write:

To effectively formulate or implement strategic plans for the 21st century, managers and executives must be able to focus on the unique needs of local foreign customers, suppliers, labor pools, government policies, and technology and at the same time on general trends in the world marketplace. For an individual, this requires tremendous environmental-scanning abilities just to pick up the information. It requires vast knowledge and processing abilities to categorize and interpret raw data effectively. It requires being able to understand and work well with people from different cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds as well as the ability to manage teams composed of cross-cultural members (Stroh, Black, Mendenhall, & Gregersen, 2005, p. 6).

In addition to the business practices and strategy, the global organization must ensure that their human resources strategy takes a global approach to the staffing of the organization. This strategy should include the hiring of a local workforce as well as the use of international assignments for their employees. Local staffing provides the cultural intelligence needed for the organization and key managers and leadership from outside the region to help build the organizations presence and environment in the new region/country. International assignments such as these can provide key employees valuable lessons in international management and multi-cultural organizations.

Selecting the ‘right’ person for an international assignment is just the first step for an organization. In addition to the selection process, an organization must properly plan for the relocation, reassignment and support of the employee and the employee’s family. To properly plan for the international assignment, an organization needs to consider all aspects of the assignment and prepare the assignee and their family for the relocation and immersion into a new culture and assignment. Runnion (2005) describes this planning process as a multi-stage process whereby goals, compensation, relocation services, support services and training services are agreed upon (Runnion, 2005, pp. 21-22) and then implemented.


  • Runnion, T. T. (2005, July 2005). Expatriate programs: From preparation to success. Workspan, 48(7), pp. 20-22.
  • Stroh, L. K., Black, J. S., Mendenhall, M. E., & Gregersen, H. B. (2005). International assignments: An integration of strategy, research and practice (1st ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

[tags] Expatriate Success, Human Resource, HR, Leadership, International Assignments [/tags]

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