20 Day Challenge Day 13 – The Role of Failure

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If you’ve been following along, you will note there was no post on day 12. It was the first failure in my 20 day challenge to post on every business day.

So, what happened? I returned late Wednesday night from Seattle and hit the sack only to wake up early Thursday morning with kiddos. I had to take one kid to day camp and pack my suitcase for a week away. I also was on a work call and entertaining my other little kiddo who was flying with me to Birmingham to visit grandparents while I was traveling. On the plane, I had some time sensitive client work to tackle at 10,000 ft. Once we landed in Birmingham, family time took over and before I knew it, I was too tired to work and I called it a night.

This morning I was annoyed that I missed the day. Eleven consecutive days was great and I thought I would make the full 20 days. It just didn’t happened. I failed. Or did I?

When it comes to PDSAs, what does it mean to fail? In American culture, we condition ourselves to try to avoid failure. We’ll push hard to plan and delay acting just in hopes to get it right the first time and not fail. When we do fail, we get frustrated at missing the mark. I think that’s wrong.

A while back, I used to teach PDSA testing using images of my son building a block tower. He was about 3 year’s old at the time and I took the pictures from my couch as he used trial and error to learn how to stack the blocks and not let them fall down. He was brilliant to watch because he never got frustrated from failing and always applied what he learned to improve for the next attempt. To this day, I have people come up to me and tell me they remember the images and how they helped them understand PDSA testing and the role of failure for improvement learning.

There’s a famous story from Thomas Edison resulting from a question asked about the thousands of unsuccessful attempts to create the light bulb. Edison is reported as responding that none were a failure because he learned from each.  I agree with this view. While yesterday, I did fail to post, that failed day provided me insights I might not have had if I had been successful everyday.

For example, I learned days would exist where posting is difficult. Days may be over booked, Internet is hard to access (GoGo InFlight Internet has never worked for me), or time sensitive projects not planned for come up. It may be smart to have a few canned posts in my pocket to address these days. Was it possible for me to be more efficient during the day and write in little spurts with the aim of getting it done by the end of the day versus in a single sitting? I’ve also made the decision to post everyday for 20 days, but does it really matter. Can I be more flexible?

Failure is an important part of innovation and learning. Organizations need to develop cultures and practices that encourage thoughtful testing, comfort with failure, and learning systems to build on that failure data. The more freedom people feel to fail the freer they can feel to learn. I would much rather be someone who tried and tried and tried and failed, but learned. How about you?

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PDSA Time 30 Min

PDSA Learning

Most of what I learned is captured above. I do think it was valuable to learn from a day without a post. I predict it could happen again. The next four posts will happen with full days on the road.