Failing Fast… fail with clarity

Failing is and will always be one of the greatest steps to learning (think of a child learning to walk as an example), but the caveat is ‘how you fail’…. and how you are supported or support others while experiencing ‘failure’. Leading Edge believe great leadership embraces ‘Fast Fail’ – both individually and encouraged in others.  But the interpretation of Fast Fail is clear.  It’s not about simply ‘accepting mistakes and moving on’.  ‘Fast Fail’ should not be at the expense of ‘critical thinking’. We should not be valuing speed of delivery/creation over quality of process and output.

“Don’t get hasty with your approach, don’t get lazy with your process”

Failure can be bad, maybe even catastrophic – we need to aspire to do it less often or in a manner where we can manage the fall out. Failure once is a learning experience, failing because of the same lack of thinking, planning, awareness, ownership or focus is sheer foolhardiness.  Don’t go blindly into the darkness, take your metaphorical lamp (and extra batteries) with you.We can prepare for this using two simple strategies.

Strategy 1: Work Out Loud (#WOL)
John Stepper is the godfather of this methodology. In its most simple form:

#WOL = Observable Work + Narrating Your Work

John states “Working Out Loud starts with making your work visible in such a way that it might help others. When you do that – when you work in a more open, connected way – you can build a purposeful network that makes you more effective and provides access to more opportunities.”

The 5 elements of #WOL are:

1. Making your work visible: let your work (and working out) be seen
2. Making work better: deliberately share with those who can provide useful feedback
3. Leading with generosity: share as contributions to a cause over self-promotion
4. Building a social network: interact with a broader range of people beyond the traditional
5. Making it all purposeful: have a goal for using this approach to focus your learning and connections.

Whilst John is the Godfather, I see Julian Stodd (blog posts: as the expert practitioner in this method. He consistently shares his thoughts as he goes and builds new things based on feedback. This approach has lead to the creation of multiple successful courses and books in the fields of learning, social leadership and trust.

Strategy 2: Fail Out Loud (#FOL)
Taking this one step further is the concept of #FOL. Now when I say ‘OUT LOUD’ what I mean is ‘in view of those you trust’: your team, your peers, your project group (and maybe not in view of the general public). Where trust exists we can feel confident to use this ‘no blame’ methodology, an ownership approach. You own the success (with your team) and you own the failure (supported by your team). As a reminder – from out last blog on TRUST:

“Without trust we may never reach our individual, collective or organisational potential…”

Where trust is present team members feel safe to speak up, will help each other and will leverage the strengths of the team. Team member will ask for help, accept questions as positive curiosity, offer feedback and apologies (progress over politics).

In the presence of Trust – we find:

• True engagement – listening to/hearing of stories being told
• Full Collaboration – sometimes at the expense of personal KPI’s
• Innovation Lead – people see opportunity for betterment (it’s safe to try)
• Team Focused – investing in collective goals

From a competitive and professional sporting context we may not feel we often see much #WOL but I guarantee you, behind closed doors (the training you don’t get to see on camera) there will be a great deal of #FOL. In football you may see this manifest it self as testing new formations, taking strategies penned on paper off the page and into a training game. Learning (safely) what works and what doesn’t work and for who before its tried in public.

This approach to leadership and team development is a nudge to remember that in ‘Fast Fail’ we are not focused simply on speed of delivery and testing, but doing this with critical thought. Fast Fail must be a mindful approach. This great Ted Talk by Leticia Gasca (a failed and now successful business women) on ‘Failing Mindfully’ captures this nicely.

Some highlights of the talk:
• Share the details of failure, it increases positive regard for your endeavours
• People bond and grow through failure (where trust and care exists)
• Learn from the experience of failure and take responsibility for sharing these lessons
• Don’t punish those who fail…

“when we excessively punish those who fail, we stifle innovation and business creation, the engines of economic growth in any country”

In summary…

• Work out loud – share as you work and encourage others to do the same
• Fail out loud – don’t hide the process or the results theres gold in this if we learn from it
• Reflect on the experience – truly, madly, deeply (and objectively), ask for the reflections of other
• Act…. Maybe have another go, because now the timings right

But be ok and open about making new new mistakes, if we are all honest nothing we do comes without them



by Kurt Lindley

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