Failure = learning opportunity
The is one specific area of leadership culture that I believe has a massive impact on the organization’s ability to develop and to make results.
And that is the question about how you are dealing with failure and mistakes, and how you behave when things don’t go as planned or as you have wished them to.
I think this thing about mistakes and failures and certain cultures where they are less desired so to speak, is something we have carried forward back from the industrial age. At that time, a lot of the value creation was made in companies with production oriented settings where you repeated a lot activity to make an output that should look similar to the prototype or to what you just did half an hour ago.
And that means mistakes in that context were of course less wanted and less needed.
A lot of the leadership that we are doing today is about to developing new things, new ways to work, things that we have not done before. And in that context and setting, mistakes will always happen. That’s the only way you can learn.
The only way a child can learn to grow up in this world is by making mistakes, learning how things are working and definitely also learning how things are not working.
The leadership implication of that is that if you are pursuing mistakes as something we don’t want, you risk ending up in a position where nobody dares to go beyond the normal comfort zone.
On the contrary, if you really want to see development, if you want to see things done in a different way tomorrow than they were yesterday, you also need to allow for a culture where taking risk is first of all allowed, but you need to treat mistakes in a different way:
Overall I believe there are 2 types of projects that I see:
- There is the project that comes out with great impact – that’s fantastic.
- Other projects come out with probably more learnings than impact.
The most important question in that aspect is: What were the learnings that we actually got?
The reason for that is simply that if you don’t capture the learnings, if you spend a lot of time doing something and trying to figure out something, and it didn’t work – and you just leave it there, and consider the whole thing as a very big mistake, you can consider the time and money that went into the thing as sunk costs. It’s money out the window, you get no value from them whatsoever.
On the contrary, if you sit down and treat that thing as one big learning experiment, and extract the learnings that you can get, you are starting you next initiative from a higher place because you have taken the learnings from the mistake that you made and can install that in your next initiative.
That leads to the conclusion that the ideal culture is actually a culture where people are obliged to learn from the mistakes, because they will undoubtedly happen.