Let me share a little secret with you – You are going to fail. You’ll have multiple failures in diverse areas in life. It’s what you do with them that predicts if you’ll be an overall success.

In the first post of this two part series, we talked about including failure in our plans and embracing failure as an important individual learning tool. Today we’ll talk about failure as a teaching and corporate learning tool.

Angle #3 – Everybody Fails! (Plan to help others)

Can you think about the last time you made a mistake? I think if you are honest you won’t have to think back too far, I didn’t anyway. Remember when you were learning something? Remember when you were new at the job and you made that mistake. What about the time you got that response when you made an honest and simple mistake? Didn’t feel great, did it?

I’ll give my standard disclaimer here, I’m preaching to myself with this angle (well really all angles but this one especially)… We all make mistakes. If I had to take a stitch of cube fabric down for every mistake I’ve made in life, I’d have a real open concept cubicle.

Keep that in mind when dealing with other people’s mistakes. I think it is perfectly acceptable to expect people to own their mistakes and be honest and up front about them. As long as they are doing that and there wasn’t malicious intent or careless behavior involved why box someone’s ears? The sting of knowing you screwed up is often a powerful motivator and teacher all by itself. Come to that persons side, offer them some help, tell them a story about how you brought down the production cluster once. Sure there may be a teachable moment in there but teaching doesn’t always have to look like tearing into someone skull and popping their eyeballs out… Teach but don’t lecture. Help but don’t strut.

Angle #4 – Cleanup, Aisle 4 (Plan to not be doomed to repeat failures)

We either learn from our mistakes because we embraced our failure like we discussed in Angle #3 and change our course or we make the same failure again and again. I can’t speak for you, but I vote for the former.

As we discussed in part 1, we can learn from our own mistakes. That is a great tool for personal learning but how does your team or company do? I’ve worked at companies that do a great job at this and I’ve worked at companies that don’t.

I’ll give the negative example first… So a mistake happened, production downtime and money spent/lost because of a failure. Meetings are convened to discuss the failure but they start something like this – “Yesterday we had a failure in our system, it wasn’t my fault but I think it was the delivery team’s fault.” Ahhh the blame game, played in countless board rooms and e-mail trails across the world. In fact even as you read this post, somewhere some “team” is playing a round. Blame is assigned, the issue and causative factors are lost in the noise and someday, someway that issue is going to pop up again. Don’t do that. Don’t fall victim to that.

We already said it – We are going to fail, we all make mistakes. So how does an organization deal with that mistake’s aftermath? You may groan when you hear the terms “lessons learned meeting” or “root cause analysis” but those are really great tools. Don’t you want to know why the failure happened and how to prevent it? Put the egos, pointer fingers and pride aside and get together and figure out what happened. Ask why a few times like Thomas LaRock describes in his post on Root Cause Analysis. Thoroughly research and understand the issues before moving on from a serious production outage. Maybe you didn’t follow the first angle and you didn’t account for that failure scenario?

Wrap It Up, Walsh

We all mess up. Either understand, plan, prepare and learn from the times that you do and remember that when others do and end up succeeding in the end or let your failures be your (or your project’s, team’s, or even your company’s) failure. I really think it is that simple.  Before I leave you to go out and better practice what I preach, I’ll leave you with..

A Few Quotes

Don’t forget to check out the first part of this two part series. Looking forward to reading your thoughts in the comments below.

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