I heard this statement expressed the other week while walking around the campus of a thriving business:
"This is the building where we do failure"
A very simple statement, but very deep. It referred to a building dedicated to the support of prototyping behavior. In other words, a place where people are encouraged to craft probes in to the future, each designed to bring back a bit of evidence meant to guide decision making.
What I also found significant about this place is that it is open to anyone. It’s not a special lab or skunkworks for a select group of people. Anyone can walk in and do failure. I think this is an important kind of resource to have available if your organization is serious about engaging in innovation on a routine basis, whether that innovation be incremental or evolutionary in nature.
There’s a Field of Dreams aspect to having a place designed for failure. You have to believe. In particular, three points of belief are key to sustaining a place for failure, otherwise it won’t get used in the right way or even understood:
At the end of the day, having a place responsible for the creation of variance, fueled by intuition and experimentation and optimism, is key to making failure instructive and productive.
Obviously what you describe above is the more positive and hopeful “take” on human endeavor.
What I’m struck by is the number of people who don’t think it’s an outright falsehood, and are sure it happens somewhere “out there,” but don’t feel it applies to their situation because the tolerance for mistakes and failure has been abused – or otherwise proven to be naïve.
Workplaces that are not focused on finding innovative products and services for the marketplace tend to be composed of people who resonate to what I refer to as the “workplace soap opera” – the tugging and elbowing of people who believe it’s about power and pecking order, despite any lip service to idealism.
Not everyone is an outright cynic, but the actual cost of mistakes has turned out to be too unpleasant to be denied. I’ve worked with a whole bunch of people disillusioned by exhortations to be bold, be a loyal team member, or to “think outside the box.”
A consistent reality, though, is that they’re so often not disappointed in management and their peers as much as they are – poignantly – in themselves.
I love that a company has a place for failure. That’s a great way of communicating to people that it’s ok to take risks that might not succeed. By designating a specific place in their building, they’re telling employees that failure is a part of their way forward, and that it’s not something they hide away.
Thanks for pointing it out. Gives me something to think about for a future blog post.