Failure is often a by-product of working on challenging problems. How can we feel more comfortable about embracing failure as part of the process? The structure of games and play might show us the way.
I’m Lisa Helminiak and I founded a design and innovation consultancy here in the Twin Cities. I want to talk today about Failure and why I think we’ve got to redefine how we view it, feel about it and react to it so we can adapt to the growing set of challenges we face as on our planet.
Most of us learn about success and failure early in school. Story of my experience in school. Pass or fail, Correct or incorrect. Didn’t learn about iteration or gain patience by reworking an essay or a math problem. It didn’t teach me to work on continual improvement.
Things haven’t changed much since I was in school. We still are teaching and learning most of our early lessons about success and failure in the way we’ve been learning them for centuries. The problem is that this model may turn out a great assembly line worker but it doesn’t work very well in a knowledge economy.
We are afraid to fail. It is a taboo, especially in our culture of success. We are afraid of failure. We avoid it and we penalize it.
Amy C Edmondson from the Harvard Business School developed a nice way to evaluate types of failure so that we can start thinking about managing different types of failure in different ways. First, there is the failure that we should be able to prevent. These failures are preventable because they are failures of not doing the right thing you know works. are not following a process you know works, or being inattentive or doing something you are just not capable of doing. I would be a dismal failure as a
Here’s where we need to wipe the word failure from our vocabulary. When you are working in the unknown, everything is a test. How can we fail when we don’t know what success looks like. This is the zone we need to practice in to solve new and tougher challenges.
Let’s stay in the zone where we don’t have control over outcomes with regularity.
So I was thinking about metaphors could we use to reframe failure. What do mammals (that means humans too) do naturally to learn and gain mastery around a topic?
What can we learn from playing games? And how can we use this knowledge to design systems that allow us to learn without
Games are all about failing. If you only succeeded, there would be no game to play. Discuss how we can build failure into our work.
Leveling up is a key part of game design. Leveling up can help us design better ways to design for failure. Decide what success and failure looks like before you start a project. Decide at each decision point if you are ready to level-up to the next step. If you use this approach, you have a frame work in which to make better decisions.
Design ways to reward knowledge gains rather than just getting things right.
Build a culture that celebrates intelligent failure. In other words acknowledge that failure is just part of the work but we’ll all learn from it and improve our mastery.
Acknowledge and design a discovery process rather than just the end game. Create a fail fast and learn culture.
now when to stop playing
Taking a gaming approach is a way to allow people to explore new ideas, try new things and continue to gain information quickly to address the complex problems we need to solve for.
Go epic and embark on your quest. It takes courage to accept failure and play down success.
Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail. There’s only MAKE.
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