Turn failure from a cost to an asset

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How to convert failures from costs to assets: punitive culture has to end.


This is front of mind with all the armchair COVID critics calling for civil servant resignations – troublingly the most vocal are bosses. How they think those dealing with COVID will work better with powerful men calling for their scalpsnos beyond me.

I’m triggered to write by the attached slide from John Allspaw ,  a great thought leader in IT failure analysis. Follow him on Twitter @allspaw

It’s simple:
The value in failures is what we can learn from them.
If failure is punished, it will get buried, where you have to dig for any value, and often never even know it is there. When it is buried, the only impacts are the costs.
If failure is embraced as new value – even embracing incompetent failure – then it will be presented in the open for the value to be extracted.
It becomes an asset not an (often hidden) cost.

Failure is inevitable. Make it acceptable, normal, welcome even. All failure is an advance but only if you let it be one.

Then the next discussion is how the value is only realised if you have a learning organisation with a continual improvement machine to realise the value. This reduces future failure.

Another discussion is how punitive culture damages productivity, lowers quality, and increases errors, ensuring more future failures.

A third line of enquiry from here is how to free ourselves from punitive culture. That’s what we do at Teal Unicorn.