Learning From Failure In Leadership - Stop Throwing Tomatoes!

"Failure and fault are virtually inseparable in most households, organizations, and cultures. Every child learns at some point that admitting failure means taking the blame. That is why so few organizations have shifted to a culture of psychological safety in which the rewards of learning from failure can be fully realized." (Edmondson, 2011;1)

It is time to stop throwing tomatoes. Blame name and shaming cultures in the #NHS have been talked about on various occasions. This week on Twitter, we saw the repercussions for a whistle blowing doctor (one of many) who wanted to follow the new NHS idea of candour...who knows what really went on... but seemingly, the rhetoric screams of 'silencing' said whistle blower.

So with such talk of candour, why are some failures being silenced? If there are failings in any organization, fair enough.... we are human, and sometimes we will fail. Learning from failures is a part of getting better, healing and growing as an organization. In that sense, failures are a positive thing surely? If we don't accept failures, how can we remedy them?

Responsibility is key

Intelligent failures can be considered "good," - they provide valuable new knowledge and ensure its future growth. The right kind of experimentation produces good failures quickly.

True leaders can counteract the blame, name and shame culture and make people feel both comfortable with and responsible for surfacing and learning from failures. These are the leaders we create at altstrat, we truly see the value of openness. This is essential for improvement, learning and a stronger #NHS. 

As our students innovate, solve wicked problems and make changes to their workplaces as they learn, we encourage them to embrace failure as a lesson learnt.

Intelligent failures occur when experimentation is necessary. Answers cannot be known in advance, and so we must permit a 'trial'. Innovation will not happen without this.

 "Trial and error" however, must be a misnomer. "Error" implies that there was a "right" outcome in the first place. We must first 'try' in order to succeed. Should failure and responsibility be embraced by our NHS leaders, we may see growth and innovation in the NHS like never before. As we send our students into work based learning, we do so with the knowledge that they will 'try' 'innovate' and 'learn' - Failure only becomes failure when nothing is learnt.

Edmondson, A (2011) Strategies Of Learning From Failure. Harvard business review, 2011, Vol.89(4), pp.48-55, 137 [Peer Reviewed Journal]

Posted on January 3, 2015 .