Think Big, Start Small, Go Fast…and Embrace Mistakes as Learning

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We have all been there.  We work on a project for years, roll it out, and there are significant problems.  In fact, I was once on a project where we had to go ‘dark’ for six months and pull the product from the market.  This week, we heard about Samsung pulling their mobile phone from the market.  Whether it’s building a product or implementing culture transformation, we need to look at change differently.

How can we avoid these types of large failures?  Failures in software development. Failures in processes. Failures in change management. Failures in culture change.  Failures in organizational transformation.

First, let’s start by not calling it failures. Let’s call it learning.  Each time something does not work as we expect, we are learning from it.  And instead of large scale failure at the end, let’s start small, experiment, and learn.  Let’s start with the vision, decide what small piece to prototype, and then learn from it.  If the little piece we build does not work as expected, then we adjust and change.  It’s much easier to learn and change at this point, and the project has a much greater chance of success. We evolve on a continuous basis. We learn through the process.

Second, let’s discourage an environment where failure means your job is in jeopardy. Let’s discourage an environment where people are scared if they bring up something that is wrong.  To experiment and learn, there must be a safe environment where you can say this experiment did not work and here is how we are going to adjust.

Third, breathe.  Seriously, take a deep breath. Change is hard.  Evolving your mindset from failure to learning means, you don’t get upset when something does not work as expected.  But the good news is when this happens, the risk is much smaller.

How can we start the process? Whether we are in leadership positions or individual contributors, we can start this process in our daily jobs.

  • Change starts with ourselves. Embrace risk, build your experiments in your job, enjoy the learning.  Show others what you are doing, what you are learning and how you are starting small.
  • Be okay with saying, this did not work. Where do we go from here? Start to create safe environments with your peers where it’s okay to learn.
  • Start to use the phrase, “Let’s try it” in order to move from analysis and debate and into action. The more you say let’s try it, the more you are starting the experimentation process.
  • Narrate your work out loud. In other words, explain what you are doing and what you are learning along the way.  Show others the process and how successful it can be.
  • Create a safe space for your team to start to talk about experimentation. One option is to have everyone share their most spectacular failure and what they learned from it.
  • Celebrate small wins. Small experiments can lead to small wins which can build momentum.

We typically think of prototyping and experimentation in product development. However, this also applies to culture change and transformation projects.  Instead of having every answer up front, start to pilot and experiment with ideas on a small scale and then adjusting as needed.