Fail Road by fireflythegreat

Hmmm… I’ve been down this road before.

The title of this article has a dual significance. First, it’s an acknowledgement of my failure to keep this blog up to date. My new role means that I have less time and less headspace for the reflection needed to write this stuff.

A lot of my learning at the moment is around how to be a good manager (or possibly how to be less of a bad one).

Currently, my learning is following it’s usual pattern. I’m learning through doing, reading and trying to teach others. At some point the trying to teach others bit will probably extend to writing more about my learning, but at the moment it is mainly limited to the various bits leadership development training I’m delivering.

One of those bits of leadership development training was the CMI Level 5 module I taught recently on managing ideas and innovation and in my usual domain-hopping way I have started to think about how the theories and models applied here could be useful in career development work with clients and in the development of careers professionals.

It’s not just businesses and entrepreneurs who have to be innovative. In the current economic climate, individuals have to be increasingly innovative with their own career development and job hunting. Similarly, as career professionals, we have to develop more innovative approaches to address the demands of our individual and institutional clients.

And this is where the second significance of the title comes in. Wherever there is a need to innovate, there is an accompanying need to be able to deal with the possibility of failure. In career terms, this is often linked with the idea of resilience. But there is more to dealing with failure than just the ability to bounce back and stay optimistic.

Failure is an integral and unavoidable part of any truly innovative process (unless you are incredibly lucky!). Preparing for innovation requires you to anticipate failure, accommodate failure, plan to recover from failure and learn from failure.

In a recent coaching session with a client, we were discussing options for embarking on a freelance career. The issue of possible failure came up and I struggled to find a way to help her think about failure constructively. Then I remembered a concept I had introduced in the CMI module: 4F – Fail Fast, Fail Forward. She immediately got it and responded enthusiastically. This isn’t so surprising (despite the name) because it actually reflects a growth or incremental mindset and an approach rather than avoidance motivation.

Fail fast – be ready for things to go wrong, know what early indicators of potential failure to look out for and be ready to act quickly.

Fail forward – don’t spend time on recriminations and wishful thinking, focus on solutions and focus on learning lessons so that your next attempts have a greater chance of success.


Monmouthshire County Council's Fail Fast, Fail Forward initiative

Fail fast. Fail forward

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  1. #1 by Tom Staunton on 26 March 2013 - 16:22

    Great article really enjoyed it. It did leave me with a bit of a question around the 4Fs framework though. I can see myself using it with a client because of its simplicity but I feel there are other aspects of failure to consider. Such as if the failure teaches us something about ourselves we need to reflect on and if the failure actually opens up a new direction we may not have seen. My fear is the 4Fs focusing on managing and moving past failure in a straight line rather than seeing what alternatives about ourselves or our career trajectories the failure opens up.

  2. #2 by David Winter on 28 March 2013 - 08:24

    Hi Tom
    Those are all valid points. In some ways they are already covered by the Fail Forward element and my too concise explanation failed to make that clear.

    Failing Forward is all about learning and that learning doesn’t have to be linear. It could be about learning different ways to achieve the same goal, or learning to spot opportunities you ignored the first time, or learning to question the assumptions that led to failing in the first place.

  3. #3 by Chris Speedy on 16 December 2013 - 12:16

    Engineers think a lot about failure as in the concept of “fail safe”. They build the possibility of failure into their design process to ensure that if (when) failure occurs it happens “elegantly” rather than catastrophically!

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