J.K. Rowling, creator of Harry Potter, is a great proponent of failure. In fact, she entitled her recent commencement address at Harvard “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination.” Her experience has taught her that it is through failure that we strip away the inessential, discover what we truly value in life, learn how resilient we are and, in the process, gain a necessary measure of humility and humanity. Above all, when we survive failure we begin to cure ourselves of the fear of failure, thereby freeing ourselves to try new things, to dare more.
As far as J.K. Rowling is concerned, the one thing worse than trying and failing is failing to try. She calls this “failing by default:”
You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.
In reading her remarks, I found myself wondering how many knowledge managers are failing by default. To fail by default in knowledge management is to be content with simply keeping the home fires burning rather than venturing out into new territory. It means tinkering around the edges of KM systems rather than working on the next paradigm shift. Mere maintenance rather than innovation.
Given the myriad challenges involved in actually conceiving and implementing new KM systems, it isn’t irrational to be tempted to avoid innovation all together. However, therein lies the path to irrelevance, which is the equivalent of professional suicide. A KM system that isn’t relevant isn’t worth the time and effort expended on it.
If you need more incentive to brave the risk of failure, read The Competitive Advantage of Failing. Then, go out there and try something new.