Fail better

BECKETTAs Samuel Beckett wrote, in Worstward Ho:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Acknowledging the fact that we surely don’t really want our project to fail, what does failing better actually mean?

It’s surely about openness – in other words, admitting that things didn’t go to plan, and having a frank discussion about what went wrong – so that everyone can learn from it and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Often projects that don’t quite succeed are brushed under the carpet and never mentioned again, or worse, spun to pretend that everything was hunky dory.

Here’s a lovely example of openness around failure from Chris Poole, the legendary moot of 4chan fame, discussing what went wrong with his company that made the Drawquest app:

With that said, life goes on, and the best path forward is not a wounded one, but a more learned and motivated one. I’m definitely not itching to start another company any time soon—it will take time to decompress and reflect on the events of the past four years—but I hope that if I do some day decide to pursue a new dream, I’ll be in a much better position to. After all, I did just receive a highly selective, four-year education for a mere $3.6 million dollars! (I find humor helps as well.)

So when reviewing a project which perhaps didn’t turn out as expected, rather than covering things up, or apportioning blame, try to fail a bit better. Identity what went wrong, and how it could have been avoided – and tell people about it.

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Published by

Dave Briggs

I'm an experienced senior manager in digital and ICT, looking for interim engagements to modernise technology teams to help organisations transform.

2 thoughts on “Fail better”

  1. Fantastic stuff! Sharing what hasn’t worked is so important – no point blindly going into dodgy ground when we can learn from others. Public service organisations do need to be very brave to do this in a world where failiures are magnified so intensely, but it’s got to be worth sharing these lessons with others when it can save time and money and also improve quality.

    The What’s the PONT blogs on failiure are very interesting and worth checking out too in case it’s of interest – http://whatsthepont.com/2013/11/04/loving-and-learning-from-failure-great-idea-but-how-does-it-work/

  2. Was thinking of starting a community of “failures” sharing what went wrong and giving advice to each other on how to bounce back / what they could have done better next time.

    MVP is at http://www.fayl.io/ but not quite sure the approach is right (more just a collection of startup failure stories at the moment).

    Would love you to take a look and send me your thoughts!

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