Monday, January 12, 2015

Why Do We Learn More from Failure?

By Pascal Dennis

Why do we learn from more failure than success?

Seems to me, it's because failure illuminates more of the design space than success.

Supposing we're testing the structural integrity of say, a hard hat, by dropping a heavy weight on it.

If we test to the standard, (say 20 kg) and the hard hat remains intact, you've learned something about what sort of blow it can sustain.

But suppose we keep dropping heavier & heavier weights, and vary the angle of the blows - until the hard hat shatters.

Our analysis of the fragments, breakage pattern, of the slow motion video and so on, will teach us far more about the nature of hard hats.

That's why experienced labs & design teams test to failure.

A caveat, as my colleague, Al Norval, suggests, is that we fail quick & fail often, so as to minimize hassle & transaction cost.

A second caveat: our failures are controlled & buffered so nobody gets hurt!

These same principles apply in strategy, product & process design and problem solving.

That's why we say 'problems are gold'.

We have to be comfortable, of course, with experimentation & ambiguity. Which means we need a strong foundation built on the fundamentals.

The fundamentals – Value & Waste, Standardized Work, Visual Management etc. – anchor us, so we feel comfortable with the inherent instability of rapid experimentation.

In my experience, the best leaders teach the fundamentals, then create a sense of free-wheeling energy & opportunity.

"Let's try some stuff -- and see what happens!"

"Holy cow, who would have thought...!?"



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