Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fail Fast, Fail Often, Fail Cheap

I’m working my way through a thought-provoking book – Know What You Don't Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen, by Michael Roberto. The main focus is on how business schools do a terrific job at training MBAs how to solve problems, but do little to help them find those problems in the first place. The book identifies ways to find the small problems that may become bigger if left untouched.

One way to find problems is to encourage mistakes. Huh? Really? YES! Maxine Clark, founder and CEO of Build-a-Bear Workshop, even provides “Red Pencil Awards” to people who make mistakes, and find a better way of doing business through that mistake. Clark attributes her mistake-finding attitude to her first-grade teacher, Mrs. Grace. Clark explains how Mrs. Grace would award a red pencil to those who had made the most mistakes, because she wanted her students to be actively involved in class discussion, trying to answer all questions, no matter how challenging. Clark states, “She didn’t want the fear of being wrong to keep us from taking chances. Her only rule was that we couldn’t be rewarded for making the same mistake twice.”

Awards for identifying – even making – mistakes encourage a learning environment, allowing team members to experiment, try new methods, and step out of one’s comfort zone.

Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM, states “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.” Finding where you fail and adjusting or modifying to no longer fail ensures that you are actively learning, and therefore growing in your knowledge. There are lots of stories about failure in invention and business – the light bulb, the “post-it” note. Sometimes the initial plan for a product can be seen as a failure when actual use is what takes off. Kleenex tissues were initially designed to remove make-up, and it was a source of initial frustration when the company discovered that folks were using them to blow their noses!

One of my favorite quotes is from the fictional teacher, Ms. Frizzle, in the book series “The Magic School Bus” – “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” How else will you learn, succeed at something new, and bring more value to your client?

Now, get out there and fail! Then fail again! Your eventual success will be that much sewetre sweeter!

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