Nick Johnston26 October 2018

It’s time to celebrate failure

I have always had an issue with celebrating “failure”. It doesn’t feel right. Heart failure, structural failure – the term often implies catastrophic and permanent results. We definitely shouldn’t be celebrating those.

To take a step back, my background is in chemical engineering. Before I started working at Inventium I worked as a Risk & Safety Engineer (an obvious path to an Innovation Consultant, I know). In that line of work, failure normally refers to something giving way or fracturing. The results of this could potentially harm a lot of people. So bear with me here.

When it comes to innovation, nobody is celebrating these types of failure. These types of failure are costly and (rightly so) minimised as much as possible.

What we should be celebrating is being wrong. You try something new because you think that it might work. There are two possible outcomes: you are right (it works!) or you are wrong (it stinks!).

Our ego wants us to be right all of the time. It doesn’t feel good to be proven wrong.

But when it comes to learning, it doesn’t matter whether you are right or wrong. Either way you learn something valuable that you wouldn’t otherwise have known. If you’re right – amazing, you’re one step closer to showing that the new thing works. If you’re wrong – damn, at least you know what doesn’t work. It means you’re closer to finding what works.

However, in traditional organisations, employees have been trained to hide when they’re wrong. Admitting you’re wrong is seen as a fast way to being fired. The issue with this is that others can’t learn from the times you were wrong. So they are bound to make the same mistake again!

I want you to get out there and share the times you have been wrong. Start with your team, but if it applies to others – go even wider. I’ll start:

Recently I was editing a report for a US-based company. In the final check, I noticed that I needed to change a lot of the words ending in -ise to -ize for the American audience. To make this quick and simple I used search & replace. Genius, right! Wrong. I soon learnt that a number of words remain -ise even in the US (who would have known revize is not a word?).


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