Saturday, February 23, 2013

Celebrate Failure As Learning, Leading to Growth

According to an ASQ survey conducted by Kelton Global, while 95 percent of teens agree that risk-taking is required for innovation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics - or STEM - careers, 46 percent say they are afraid to fail or uncomfortable taking risks to solve problems. Failing and trying again is key to problem-solving in STEM careers, including the field of quality. Fewer teens are pursuing STEM fields today because of the fear of bad grades. ASQ CEO, Paul Borawski, suggests that "We need to teach today’s students how to take risks and fail so they feel comfortable when faced with challenging work."

Changing this fear of failure - and the impact of bad grades - requires a culture change where failure is recognized and celebrated as learning; where taking a chance by enrolling in a difficult course that stretches one's ability and receiving a lower passing grade - is rewarded with some kind of bonus points. Not all risks are equal; not all "A's" or "D's" are the same. Formal learning and grading systems should consider the degree of difficulty when calculating the student's grade. Failure in the business world is ultimately evaluated from the perspective of dollars and sense. It has been my experience in business that "bad" financial results are much more palatable when the quality of the decison-making process was first-rate. Project Management Institute (PMI) tells us that minimizing the negative impact of risk can be accomplished by maximizing the expected monetary value of a decision. Expected Monetary Value (EMV) allows you to quantitatively prioritize risk: prioritize the risks with the highest probability of occurrence versus the risks with the greatest monetary impact. EMV Decision Trees help identify the set of options available to minimize risk and maximize opportunity. For example, a "make or buy" decision can be evaluated with knowledge of the probability of each risk along with the monetary value of each risk.

I have used EMV on occasion in my career when considering the cost vs benefit of alternatives impacting quality and reliability. An interesting exercise for the potential STEM student and mentor might be to construct an EMV decision tree to evaluate curriculum options (effort vs. expected grade) using the anticipated earnings of a STEM versus non-STEM career.

In today's fast changing world we must all become comfortable with the uncomfortable. However, that does not mean we should haphazardly make important decisions in the name of speed. According to a study reported in HBR, "...operational speed is quite different from strategic speed. Firms that 'slowed down to speed up' improved their top and bottom lines, averaging 40% higher sales and 52% higher operating profits over a three-year period... higher-performing companies with strategic speed made alignment a priority. They became more open to ideas and discussion. They encouraged innovative thinking. And they allowed time to reflect and learn."

Allowing mistakes and accepting failure as learning helps to encourage experimentation, potentially leading to breakthrough or even disruptive innovation resulting in personal growth and organizational success.

1 comment:

  1. Great article Bob! Best advice I got from a former boss was "I want to see smoke coming out of that [manufacturing engineering] lab! If I see smoke, that means you learned something from a failure". Of course he did not mean it literally, but I deeply appreciated the message.