Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Stigma of Failure

Peter Drucker once observed that "There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all."  Per usual Drucker's wisdom is timeless and on-point.  Why, then, do we spend so much time performing tasks only because we have always done them?

The typical answer to this question is laziness.  We are too lazy to question processes, and thus to improve them.  Laziness certainly plays a role in perpetuating inefficient, antiquated processes but there are more powerful elements as well.

A couple of years ago I took a hockey class.  The coach lined up several cones, demonstrated a skating pattern, and then ordered the class to skate the pattern just as he had.  We complied, each carefully skating the pattern in turn.  When we finished, the coach chastised us.  "That was all wrong." he declared.  "Not a single one of you fell down, and if you didn't fall down, you aren't trying hard enough!"

There are a lot of reasons for failure, but the absence of failure does not always indicate success.  It may merely signify a complete lack of effort.

There are both good and bad reasons for failure.  Good reasons for failure include trying a new process, or improving an existing process.  A good failure is one that is endured when a person works outside their comfort zone.  Bad reasons for failure are lack of due diligence and inappropriate planning.

Organizations wishing to improve themselves must learn that failure for the right reasons is an action that deserves praise, not derision.  Too often, employees are paralyzed by fear of failure.  They spend inordinate amounts of time justifying their decisions, or worse, they choose not to make decisions at all.  They are so terrified of blame that they abhor all things new or different.

Companies wishing to succeed must be willing to change.  In order to facilitate change, these same companies must also be willing to accept some level of failure.  Changing employee perceptions of failure is a long process that begins with changing the question "Who is at fault?" to "What have we learned?"


Brian said...

Glad to see that the quill is alive. Last time I tried to use one, it really messed up my monitor.

Good's great to see you put them into practice on a daily basis.

Anonymous said...

Cool, Gary.