Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The importance of getting it wrong

Whilst the credo, "admitting failure is the first sign of weakness" is supposed to encourage perseverance, it also sends a subtle message that "failure is a weakness" and admitting it is worse.

Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, and countless other very bright people that have been recognized for "getting it right" actually "got it so wrong" so many times, and I am sure were also ridiculed for it at the time. When asked about the basis of their success however they sighted this on the number of failures that directed them to the one that worked.

Getting it wrong is so important. It's not a failure, and understanding this fact will form a critical part of our success.

I assembled some critical components on my car recently and found that although everything looked "right" it just wasn't. Now I had done this sort of thing on countless occasions on my previous cars so what could be so wrong. I had undertaken the job the way I'd always done it and had always "got it right" but this particular car had a subtle difference (and for good reason) that I didn't realise till I had "got it wrong". The designer had incorporated a very specific element which differed from others. 

I could have continued on with the thought that all was well. The car would have continued on for a little while until a critical moment arose that depended on this one aspect. It would have all gone wrong at that point.

Some leaders and managers however inadvertently operate on a similar assumption. They run on the basis of a process that has been handed to them. 

This may be a learned paradigm that they operated with in another environment or one that came with the organisation. The failings in this thinking become quickly apparent though when difficulties arise. What seemed "right" in one circumstance is very "wrong" in another, such as a change in politics, economic down turn, market changes or even natural events. In these circumstances it’s important to know how things do work, what doesn't work, and why.

Organisational leaders that have theoretical knowledge or have inherited success usually do not understand how the first dollar, approach or product was created and why. They fail to have the understanding or experience of what didn't work which would allow them to use that knowledge to work through a solution and match it to a particular issue. 

Furthermore, modelling ourselves on people who seem to "get it right" without including the "getting it wrong" knowledge will eventually leave you quite shallow and wanting when the environment changes. Simply look at the share market and effect of the GFC.

Of course we don't want to get it wrong when our life depends on it or in critical situations. We have all seen the outcomes in those situations. It is probably why people and organisations are actively fearful of getting it wrong or even admitting it, however they probably only get it right themselves because somebody else got it wrong first. 

We need to provide the safe space therefore to "get it wrong". For our children, our employees and ourselves as we will only develop, invent, explore and drive forward when we understand the importance of "getting it wrong".

Have you really tested it? Have you encouraged the people around you to challenge it, break it pull it apart?

Are you prepared to get it wrong?

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