Failing Forward Faster!


Erik and I have been working on trying to get more study and benefit from failure and we have both been struck by how hard this has been to do.  Not failing, I’m very good that, but rather to foster a culture wherein there is an implicit understanding that failure is the essence of learning and forward progress. 

Over the holidays I was reminded in some Twitter traffic about this quote, most often attributed to Thomas J. Watson Sr. of IBM (thanks JohnH):

“If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.”

It’s simple, if you’re not failing regularly you aren’t pushing yourself, not learning, not advancing.  . It’s not that failure is the goal, just that failure is a function of trying new things and should be expected and learned from.  Yet it seems that for most people and most organizations, failure is something to be ashamed of, deny, hide from and cover up. 

One of the best things I think we could all do, individually and collectively is to get into a habit of doing “post mortem” reviews at the end of every project and not regard any project as complete until such review is done.  Imagine the benefits that would be accrued from a regular understanding why something didn’t work, how to do things better next time, how to avoid repeating mistakes, etc.  Imagine if you could start data mining these post reviews for the gold nuggets of wisdom within, patterns to avoid or to follow for greater success.

Several years ago, we had an internal motto at Autodesk of “Fail Forward Faster” that we used to foster this kind of culture.  As the start of a new calendar year often prompts us to reflect upon the year that just ended and plan for the year to come, perhaps this is an opportune time to do more of this synopsis of what we’ve learned from our “failures” over the past year and use these to help plan to make 2009 the best year yet. 

So here is to all of us Failing Forward Faster and making the amount of learning and progress in 2009 an all time high!


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