Archive for April, 2010

How ‘Failure’ Can Be A Good Thing

April 8th, 2010 by Candy Medina | Tags: | Posted in Uncategorized |

April, 2010

“Failure is not an option”. That phrase has been instilled in me for many years, and has served as a personal mantra through many initiative launches. But, what if it’s wrong? What if failure is actually an expected, ‘good’ thing that helps drive positive change? I never thought about it this way until I read the book ‘Switch’, by Chip and Dan Heath (the same guys who wrote ‘Made to Stick’ – another favorite).

Of course we’re not talking about failures that are a result of inattention or incompetence here . . . we’re talking about well-intentioned misses that just didn’t have the positive consequences we envisioned. In their book, the Heath brothers make a strong case for a different approach to successfully creating change. In fact, this book is really a playbook for change, with a very compelling model for how to do it well. It’s their view of the framework in which the change occurs that is so interesting. Typically, the reason WHY the change needs to happen is pretty well understood (at least by the change leader). And, the ultimate goal, or ‘vision for success’ has some level of definition. It’s the space in between these bookends that is the focus here. In my linear, engineering brain, you know the start and stop points and you map the steps in between – each being a milestone of ever-increasing success, performance, whatever – until the ultimate goal is reached. However, this is NOT the way most successful change occurs! In fact, the between-bookends space is a nebulous, gray zone of two steps forward, one step back. The backwards steps are the ‘failures’ (in most people’s view) – but, in reality, they are what make the change stick.

I’m working with a team right now, developing a rather innovative scorecard that will help them pulse the health of their organization on a monthly basis. The first six weeks went great – everyone knew the mission and the goal, and the knowledge-gathering phase was fun and informative. After the second iteration of the work product emerged, discord was evident. The process owner was impatient and the team members disagreed on elements that had been in harmony only a few weeks previous. It was depressing, and I felt like it was a personal failure on my part. Fortunately, I finished reading ‘Switch’ shortly thereafter, and it completely changed my viewpoint. I know now that the key to this is perseverance, and focus on the positive. Change that sticks is incremental, not monumental. It takes digestion time.

Well-intentioned failure is learning that benefits the mission. In fact, the ‘failures’ let you clearly see what DOES work. “Follow the bright spots – investigate what’s working and clone it” – page 259.