There is a really good conversation that was started the other day by Stefan Lindegaard, an open innovation leader who I follow and get strong value from. It
was about failure and the value of failure with a focus on both engaging
interested parties in a dialogue and coming up coining a phrase
(failsourcing, among others came up) that the conversation could build
off of. Equally, since I started jotting down these words there was a
terrific blog from David Hume that really is all about embracing both the benefits and culture of failure.
I have been an advocate of embracing failure and other cultural drivers of innovation and collaboration for awhile. The discussion around failure, risk, experimentation, etc. is a good,
worthwhile conversation that, like many of the cultural elements that
are stumbling blocks to understanding and progressing innovation and
collaboration, is not talked about enough by practitioners let alone by
For our part, we speak to our public sector partners about the “fail value” of any given innovation or collaboration initiative. As others
that have participated in the discussion led by Stefan mentioned, you
don’t promote failure, but it would also be silly to not learn from it
in any situation. Some of the history and good work done to date
on this topic (insert 2004 study) would point to those certain
situations being pure experimentation where the expectation of failure
is higher. As David mentions so accurately the first step is to (try)
not to be afraid of it.
For the public sector space, from my perspective, here are some top of mind “failure” questions that start to get at the core:
- How do we help leaders understand and sell the benefits of higher risk and potential failure to advance innovation and collaboration?
- How can we better provide insights around the benefits of prototyping and experimentation?
- How do we change public sector processes and attitudes such that everyone is more comfortable with sensible “trial and error” as a
regular approach to public sector initiatives and programming?
For our part we use a simple, “this ain’t rocket surgery” approach. First, you don’t need a plan to make sure that you capture failure value
in an initiative but you should give some thought to it in the context
of what you are doing, particularly if it is an experiment (i.e. how
scientists operate but usually without the granular level of detail)…we
just call this Failure Setup. Sounds simple, is simple but regularly
overlooked and under appreciated.
Second, remain aware and monitor failure during the engagement. Take some notes every once in awhile around things that might not have gone
as well as you would have liked, perhaps particularly so if they failed
And last – and the hardest part for the public sector – embrace things that didn’t work as planned, talk about them (openly), and share
them with the broader community. Ultimately, the goal is to learn from
them, improve, then move to the next iteration.
I think David’s experience in British Columbia is terrific and wonderful that he is sharing those insights. Unfortunately – and I
think that most would agree – it is too rare an experience. For our part
we are happy to share our uncomplicated approach, have people comment,
improve, maybe even digest some of it, and continue to share our stories
and learn from others about this important topic.