Above and Beyond KM A discussion of knowledge management that goes above and beyond technology.

Awards & Recognition

Subscribe to Above and Beyond KM

Subscribe in a reader

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Facebook

Disclaimer

This publication contains my personal views and not necessarily those of my clients. Since I am a lawyer, I do need to tell you that this publication is not intended as legal advice or as an advertisement for legal services.
  • How Failure Leads to Epiphany

    Jonah Lehrer has written a thought-provoking piece on why we too often miss the great opportunities presented by failure. In Accept Defeat:  The Neuroscience of Screwing Up, he explains how our brains purport to “help” us by screening out information that doesn’t fit with what we believe we know.  Here’s how he describes it:

    The reason we’re so resistant to anomalous information — the real reason researchers automatically assume that every unexpected result is a stupid mistake — is rooted in the way the human brain works. Over the past few decades, psychologists have dismantled the myth of objectivity. The fact is, we carefully edit our reality, searching for evidence that confirms what we already believe. Although we pretend we’re empiricists — our views dictated by nothing but the facts — we’re actually blinkered, especially when it comes to information that contradicts our theories. The problem with science, then, isn’t that most experiments fail — it’s that most failures are ignored.

    Ignoring failure can occasionally be a sanity-preserving, efficiency-enhancing approach to life.  However, when we ignore repeated failure, we may in fact be ignoring the only feasible explanation on the horizon.  Realizing this and acting on it requires strength of mind, openness, and a certain measure of humility.  It requires a true empiricist’s approach to life.

    So how do we turn perceived failure around?  How do we find an epiphany amongst the rubble of unwanted test results?  Jonah Lehrer has the the following advice:

    Check Your Assumptions: Ask yourself why this result feels like a failure. What theory does it contradict? Maybe the hypothesis failed, not the experiment.

    Seek Out the Ignorant: Talk to people who are unfamiliar with your experiment. Explaining your work in simple terms may help you see it in a new light.

    Encourage Diversity: If everyone working on a problem speaks the same language, then everyone has the same set of assumptions.

    Beware of Failure-Blindness: It’s normal to filter out information that contradicts our preconceptions. The only way to avoid that bias is to be aware of it.

    When it comes to implementing Enterprise 2.0 tools, there’s no substitute for constant experimentation.  And, there’s no way to avoid disappointments as you struggle to find what works best in your organization.  That said, don’t be too quick to discard your apparent failures.  When viewed with an open mind, they may point the way to success.  By following Jonah Lehrer’s advice, you may be able to find a breakthrough — an Epiphany.

    ****************************

    Here is some additional reading on Failure:

    [Hat tip to Dan Pink for pointing out this article.]

    [Photo Credit: wenzday01]

    Published on January 7, 2010 · Filed under: Innovation, People, Social Media; Tagged as: , ,
    9 Comments
  • http://lehawes.wordpress.com/ Larry Hawes

    Great post, Mary, because learning from failure is critical to harnessing the power of emergence. If failure is ignored, solutions that create positive value cannot emerge from any organizational initiative, be it structural, cultural, process, or technological in nature. Organizations need to be agile; they must fail, learn, and adapt to ultimately succeed.

  • VMaryAbraham

    Thanks so much, Larry. You're absolutely right about the need to be willing
    to try, fail, learn and adapt — over and over again. The real challenge is
    that too many organizations have a culture that discourages experimentation
    or won't tolerate failure. It takes a very resilient person (or business
    unit) to attempt innovation and agility in that environment.

    - Mary

  • itgevangelist

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, though I think it should have been titled, “How Failure COULD Lead to Epiphany.” This potential epiphany is too often blocked by an organizations cultural aversion to failure (explained by the human tendencies cited in your post).

    I have visited dozens of companies in the past two years and I encounter this cultural aversion again and again. Many organizations can't even use the word, “because it has such a negative connotation.”

    I urge organizations to define failure in very specific terms and to reward the identification of failure – obviously for the purpose of learning, growth and improved future performance. This approach has no chance if the organization in question cannot overcome their inherent disdain for the word and their subsequent aversion to admitting failure.

  • Pingback: uberVU - social comments

  • VMaryAbraham

    Steven -

    You're right that we are not guaranteed an epiphany — especially if we are
    unwilling to identify the problem and then learn (the right lessons) from
    it. While it may not be possible to get an entire organization to think
    positively about failure, could we try it in units or departments? Changing
    the approach of a handful of people has to be easier than changing hundreds
    or thousands of attitudes.

    - Mary

  • VMaryAbraham

    Steven -

    You're right that we are not guaranteed an epiphany — especially if we are
    unwilling to identify the problem and then learn (the right lessons) from
    it. While it may not be possible to get an entire organization to think
    positively about failure, could we try it in units or departments? Changing
    the approach of a handful of people has to be easier than changing hundreds
    or thousands of attitudes.

    - Mary

  • Pingback: KM Requires Luck | Above and Beyond KM

  • Pingback: Harvesting insights (2): Beautiful KM « KM for me… and you?

  • Pingback: Sector learning, an introduction | Learning for Change