Does your organization appreciate the little things you’ve learned? Do you applaud colleagues who do their jobs well? All too often, organizations live day by day, from one crisis to another, and they forget to take note of the good things that happened. By asking two important questions and drawing a celebration grid, you can look for things to treasure.
There’s no doubt that learning from failure is a heavy theme in the start-up and agile communities. So why, in the corporate world, do we only celebrate successes and not failures that let you learn a lot? In the penultimate chapter of Jurgen Appelo’s Managing For Happiness, you will learn how to celebrate learning, not successes or failures. Or, in other words, we should celebrate good practices while not punishing mistakes.
So what were those two questions?
- What did we do well? (by following best practices)
- What did we learn? (by running experiments)
Only when you have a company that rewards both the following of best practices and the running of experiments can you have a company that continues to grow and continues to develop even better practices. You will learn in this chapter how to create a Celebration Grid that emphasizes just that.
“There’s another way to envision management. In this book, Jurgen Appelo is offering practices and exercises you can easily try, to change your own environment. While developing your management talent, you will say like me: Thank you, Jurgen!” – ALEXIS MONVILLE, chief agility officer at eNovance, cofounder of Ayeba
Script of Video Above:
Should we only celebrate success? Or should we also celebrate failure? Maybe we should celebrate both? Party all the time! Well, I have the answer for you.
Here is a nice diagram that shows you exactly what you should celebrate.
I’m sure that all of you know many good practices, the things that usually work. For example, I often use my smartphone as a timer when I’m speaking at conferences, so I know how much time I have left. But, even good practices can fail, sometimes. Like that time when the alarm of my smartphone went off during my keynote, loudly, and just a bit too early.
We also know some bad practices. I prefer to call them mistakes, because we often don’t do them intentionally. They are the things that won’t work, usually. For example, I do not use someone else’s computer when I speak at an event. I’ve had so many problems with missing fonts, faulty USB sticks, and PowerPoint versions that were installed in the 19th century. I don’t do that anymore.
Admittedly, sometimes even mistakes can work. Like that one time when my computer died 10 minutes into my talk, I was quite happy to use someone else’s system then.
And then there are the experiments. We run experiments when we don’t know if the behaviors are going to be successful or not. That’s the whole point of running an experiment. For example, I have done experiments using no slides, flip charts, getting the audience to do silly things, and I’ve even experimented with singing on stage!
It turns out that learning is optimal when we run experiments, when there’s a 50/50 chance of succeeding or failing. We don’t learn anything when we just repeat good practices or repeat the same mistakes. Yes, we learn when a good practice fails, or when a bad practice succeeds. Surprise! But neither happens that often.
Some people say, “We should celebrate failure.” But celebrating failure would include celebrating the failures that come from mistakes. Why would we celebrate those? That makes no sense. Celebrating success seems more sensible, particularly when we focus on reinforcing good practices. The danger, however, when you only focus on success, is that you send everyone in the direction of repeatable behaviors. When people only get compliments for achieving something, they will prefer to follow only good practices.
Why run a risk with an experiment? You might fail! But creative organizations need to learn, all the time. Interestingly enough, networks are great at innovation: running experiments.
Systems theory suggests that creativity comes from networks operating at the edge of chaos.
Hierarchies are great at repetition: doing the same thing, endlessly. Creative organizations require both networks and hierarchies. The informal network is responsible for exploration, coming up with innovative ideas. Many of them won’t work. But that’s fine. The ideas that do work, they should be passed on to the hierarchy. The hierarchy is responsible for exploitation, optimizing the ideas that work. A small network of very smart people invented the first iPhone. A hierarchy of thousands of workers produced the other 700 million copies.
As, you can see, this diagram makes it very easy to discuss behaviors versus outcomes, and success versus failure. It’s a great tool for retrospectives and other kinds of team evaluations. The best thing is, it has experiments right in the middle, reminding everyone that that’s what they should be focusing on.
So, what should you celebrate? By all means, celebrate your successes. I do so as well. However, more importantly, celebrate your experiments and the things you’ve learned from them, even when you failed.