The Icarus Deception: The Good Fail

Dare to fly high and give yourself the opportunity to soar

Seth Godin’s new book “The Icarus Deception” will be available December 31st of the year. I’ve been lucky enough to receive an advance copy from a friend and have since been sucked in to what I believe is an exceptionally valuable addition to my library. The book isn’t comprised of long sections but is rather a series of short pieces grouped together, which should feel familiar to those who have read Seth’s blog. The book as a whole is great but in my read I hit on one particular piece that I felt had to be passed along because of its relevance to performance. On page 203, Seth has a piece called “The Good Fail: How does the Organization Get Boring” In it he puts forward a law credited to David Puttnam which states, “It is more acceptable to fail in conventional ways than in unconventional ways. And its corollary: The reward for succeeding in unconventional ways is a lot less than the risk of failing in unconventional ways. In short, you can screw up with impunity so long as you screw up like everyone else.” I absolutely love this piece and this quote because it dovetails so closely with my own thoughts about how organizations descend into mediocrity or worse.

The pressure of the herd to press onward despite mediocre or poor results on the basis of it being the generally accepted path or best practice is probably one of the single most frustrating things I am confronted with on client sites. There is often an unwillingness to plow new ground despite ample evidence that the current path is not going to provide great rewards. I have often said that one of the biggest failings in most bureaucracies is that the reward for failure so outweighs the punishment for failure, that ground breaking approaches are almost never carried forward. It’s also why so many innovative ideas get their start in a garage rather than in the billion dollar R&D budgets of big business.

I know that in the new year one of the things I plan on pushing forward with is a plan to better enable my folks to take the road less traveled and encourage experimentation, and by definition almost become more accepting of failure. We want to continue down the innovative path that we try to encourage within our workplace and I believe that we already do a pretty good job of encouraging people to think outside the box. I’d love to hear your thoughts/examples, etc of programs, projects, or people who have successfully encouraged original thinking in your workplace. How did they inspire original thinking and deal with failure?

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Janina Rey Echols Harrison

Government is the first place I have worked where innovating and changing what I do was squelched by bosses, coworkers. Suggestions for changes just don’t fly. I have made very little progress and as soon as I leave an area, the little change I did manage to get through gets dropped and everyone goes back to what they did before I got there. So sad.