Tuesday, February 7, 2012

There No Success Like Failure in a World of Iteration

Having spent a few weeks in New Zealand I had the double pleasure of being on holiday with all the opportunity that that state brings, and in addition to be re acquainted with The Listener.

The Listener is described by wikipedia as a defunct magazine published 1929 - 1991. I remember it well and loved it, and like many (though not enough apparently) was sad when it closed its doors. In the readers defence I have to say it was cruelly dumbed down in its later years - a decline properly described in the wikipedia entry where you can also read about the fateful blocking of Richard Gotts editorship, lest we forget!

Imagine my surprise then when, a few years ago, I did a bit of a double take when what looked like a copy of that fine magazine was sat on a newsagent shelf in New Zealand. Now it can take a while for periodicals published in the UK to make it to NZ, but given that this was in this millennium it seemed unlikely that this copy had taken some 10 or 15 years to get there. So I took a closer look and discovered that this was in fact a copy of The New Zealand Listener, a magazine of similar content, branding and style to the version I was familiar with, but published in New Zealand and aimed at the good people of the Land of the Long White Cloud.

It was a great discovery and since then my father-in law will dutifully collect a few copies for me before I arrive on holiday. It keeps me quiet no doubt and goes some way to reinforce the case as to why I should relocate from the land of the long black cloud o more sunnier climes.

Having the luxury of time to read is a joy and I found a fascinating article in the September edition a fantastic article on “The Power of Failure - how it creates success” Written before the Rugby World Cup final the article includes a good deal of passing reference to the performance of the All Blacks - frankly almost all discourse in New Zealand does at some point make reference to the All Blacks! But it has a good deal of sensible insight into the importance of being able to have safe failure. Dave Snowden often describes the necessity of creating an environment where we can experience safe failure rather than trying to create a fail safe environment. He is right of course as we can generally learn so much more from our experiences of failure, to the extent that if it leads to subsequent success it is arguable that, when considered in the round, it is a failure at all. Tim Harford and his book Adapt: Why success Always Starts With Failure is referenced a good deal, and he makes the distinction between these small managed failures and those that occur complex “tightly coupled” systems. My response to that would be that generally these systems exist in complex environments but have been applying approaches that are applicable in the simple or or complicated domain making them vulnerable to tipping into the chaotic domain and bearing out the Cynefin framework’s insights. It’s also a sensible reminder for us to shout very loudly at people - notably politicians who accept that things get “too big to fail” but do nothing to amend this circumstance.

I was also interested to read about the work The Icehouse an Auckland based incubator that has a somewhat more sanguine attitude to failure, and an anecdote about the early efforts of Muhammad Yunus being less than entirely successful before he developed the micro finance principles that led to the Grameen Bank's success.

The point of all this? Well apart from the inherent wisdom of the article and the reminder to keep trying it serves to remind us that we can now operate in an environment of rapid iterations where the capacity for accelerated learning through microfailure is enhanced. With sensible reflective learning approaches the capacity to source a crowd of insight coupled with the ability to launch micro initiatives with the help of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing our capacity for innovative advance has perhaps never been better.

If only I had time to read the October editions....