Failing is learning

We failed! But did we really? Failing is one the greatest mental impediments a team can experience. You probably ever felt you failed doing something, or even didn’t do something because you thought the changes of failing were far too great. This makes you feel bad and potentially keeps you from making the next step. But what if we change the perception of failing?
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Failing is learning

We failed! But did we really?

Failing is one the greatest mental impediments a team can experience. You probably ever felt you failed doing something, or even didn’t do something because you thought the changes of failing were far too great. This makes you feel bad and potentially keeps you from making the next step. But what if we change the perception of failing?

Lack of success

A short search for the standard definition of failure says it means a lack of success. In my previous blog, I talked about when we experience success. Success is the achievement of a goal. But what if one of our goals, like in many Agile teams, is to constantly learn so we can improve? As Thomas Edison once said:

“I have not failed; I have just found 10000 ways that won’t work”

So, do we really fail, or do we just find ways that will not working for the goal we are trying to achieve?

We need failure

When we were born, we couldn’t walk. If I say this to people, I usually get a gazing look like I just won the Open Door Award. Of course we cannot walk. We can’t do anything. We must learn. Learn to get the control of our limbs. Try and see what we can with those strange wobbly things. We must learn how to crawl. Start exploring our home. And then learn to walk and explore the world. And we will fall in the process. A lot. We learn it’s more effective to walk on two legs, instead of both our legs and our hands. And that a concrete floor feels a lot more solid than a cushion. But when it comes to our work, we want to be the master of all our skills directly. Afraid to fall in the process.

When looking back, we learned to walk by falling. We improved our methods with the lessons we learned. One of the first lessons in our lives is one of the first things we forget when it comes to our jobs. The desire to achieve success has become so important that we become blind to the fact that failing will help us get to reach our goal sooner.

When looking at one of the most successful and colorful entrepreneurs of the last century, Richard Branson, it’s easy to say what he has achieved. The flamboyant founder and CEO of the Virgin empire owns a private tropical island, helicopters, had a wildly successful record company, airline and tons more. Sounds like this guy got it made, doesn’t it? But he too has failed. Numerous times. Ever heard of ‘Student Magazine’, ‘Virgin Cola’, ‘Virgin Digital’ or ‘Virginware’? Neither have I. All sorts of branches Mr. Branson has tried to set foot on. With the Virgin Digital, he tried to have a go at the iPod. Didn’t work. And his advice to his younger self? Don’t change a thing.

It’s all in the process

So, the lessons learned might be more important than you’d think. Try to incorporate them in your work. The sprint retrospective is the usual moment for this when working with Scrum. What went well and what can be improved? If you have held multiple retrospectives, you’ll notice this went smoother as time went by. You learn how to take a good look at your own and the team’s work and how to incorporate these lessons to improve your future learning pattern.

Try to stimulate your team to do so. One method to do so is to have a F*ck Up Award/Cup. If someone finds a flaw or mistake in his/her own work, let them grab the Cup as soon as they can and have them tell the team what they found and how he/she will prevent this from happening in the future. The rest of the day his or her favorite coffee/tea/beverage will be served to them in this Cup as a reward of learning from your mistakes. This just adds a little joy to acknowledging mistakes are there to be learned from.

Inspect & adapt

And this comes back again to the inspect and adapt principle. Check your own work and admit it’s not as perfect as you might have hoped. And keep these things in mind for future processes alike. You’ll now know what to do in a similar situation. Have a different approach. Keep yourself at the top of your game by all these experiences. Allow yourself and the team to try different ways. Don’t put to much value in the word ‘fail’. It’s all a matter of perspective.

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