Ran into this wonderful article on learning from failure by HBS professor Amy Edmondson:
For many of us, failure often has a negative association. Mostly because from a very early age, failure is so tightly coupled in our minds with fault – admitting failure also means taking the blame.
And yet, in the business world, success almost always requires some level of risk taking – a situation in which failure is an inherently plausible option.
How can we tell “good” failure from “bad” failure, so we can encourage the former and discourage the latter?
Amy suggests a taxonomy of failures ranging from the blameworthy to the praiseworthy:
- Deviance – an individual chooses to violate a prescribed process or practice
- Inattention – an individual inadvertently deviates from specification
- Lack of ability – an individual doesn’t have the skills, conditions or training to execute a job
- Process inadequacy – a competent individual adheres to a prescribed but faulty or incomplete process
- Task challenge – an individual faces a task too difficult to be executed reliably every time
- Process complexity – a process composed of many elements breaks down when it encounters novel interactions
- Uncertainty – a lack of clarity about future events causes people to take seemingly reasonable actions that produces undesired results
- Hypothesis testing – an experiment conducted to prove that an idea or design will succeed fails
- Exploratory testing – an experiment conducted to expand knowledge and investigate a possibility leads to an undesired result
More broadly, failure requires a different reaction in three major domains:
- Blameworthy: preventable failures in predictable operations (#1-5)
- Neutral: unavoidable failures in complex systems (#6-7)
- Praiseworthy: intelligent failures at the frontier (#8-9)