Previous management practices had no tolerance for failure and concentrated only on celebrating successes. Lately though the pendulum has been swinging in the opposite direction, wanting people to understand that it’s OK to fail. In grabbing a hold of this message, people will say “Fail Fast”. We really need to understand the full intent here though because it’s not that we want to concentrate on failure, but more on learning. A better and more accurate phrase would be “Fail Fast to Learn”. After all, failing without learning really provides no benefit.
If we do the same thing over and over again and continue to fail this is not beneficial and we have certainly not learned anything. Albert Einstein dubbed this “the definition of insanity”. We can be successful by following a standard practice, but again we have not learned anything. These are examples of when we have failed and succeeded, but have not learned. We can sometimes, however, learn from failure, such as the way post-it note adhesive was produced while trying to produce a super strong adhesive (see the story here). We can also learn when a standard practice which has led to much success in the past then fails us and becomes obsolete. These types of learning occur, but are less likely.
The most likely way to learn is to experiment. When conducting an experiment we learn if it fails and we learn if it succeeds. No matter what the outcome, conducting experiments increases our knowledge. Hence it would behoove us and our organizations to place more emphasis on experimentation.
A good way to gauge the level of experimentation and learning within your team or organization is to use Jurgen Appelo’s Management 3.0 “Celebration Grid” (see below).
One way to use the “Celebration Grid” is to have your team(s) write activities or efforts on post-it notes and attach them to the proper corresponding area of the grid. This can be done as a specific time-boxed exercise, a retrospective or even leave the grid taped to a wall where people can add post-it notes at their leisure. The grid makes your learnings visual and feeds very fruitful discussions around experimentation level, specific experiments, failures, successes and future endeavors. Below is an example of one team’s use during a retrospective.
Remember, it’s all about continuous learning! Progress is dependent on learning. Develop a learning mindset and follow the path to knowledge!