This week’s readings all consider elements of failure, from experiences of design failure to implementation and follow-up failure to the emotional experience of failing and the fear (or reality) of becoming “a failure,” and the ways in which the legacy of failure is written out of the record.
As a one-time perfectionist turned proud, loud, and frequent fail-er, I was excited to focus on these readings. Further, as a teacher who’s more interested in students being creative than in their being right, I was eager for tips on how to create a classroom environment in which failure is understood to be OK. I want to talk a bit about Scott Berkun’s lecture, Alison Carr’s, post, and the lecture by Brewster Kuhle (founder of the Internet Archive) that some of us saw yesterday.
Scott Berkun makes some important points. First, process is integral to understanding innovation. Sort of like how this blog post was supposed to be up on Saturday rather than Tuesday, the point is that when ideas that are mulling around in our heads, we have a much greater chance of putting them together in new and unexpected ways.This takes time, practice, patience, and guts.
Process also, I might add, requires down time with no new stimuli. Every time I have a free second, I check my phone, the news, facebook. For workers in open office plans, there’s always something exciting going on. We have a million new ideas buzzing around us all of the time, which means that we (or at least I) never give my brain the chance to do its own work in reorganizing these ideas. This is where developing good habits come in. See below.
Another of Berkun’s points is that most of this mulling time is boring, and often leads nowhere. Further, some of the most creative people are willing than most to spend longer entertaining outlandish ideas–the ones that seem most likely to fail. Good managers give their staff time to pursue those outlandish ideas.
In the end, however, failure, along with process, failure is written out of history. We never see the crappy wooden slums of Rome; never learn about Mac’s “Newton”; only the marble buildings and MacBooks that have (so far) stood the test of time.
Here are some questions to get a conversation started:
- Both Carr and Berkun suggest that our relationship with failure uniquely American. Do you buy this? Does anyone know about different cultures’ understandings of failure? How do they differ? Have our American notions changed over time? When how and why? (Sorry, I’m an Historian…you can’t just say this stuff.)
- Berkun talks about the Luddites and the sociological reasons why innovations often take time to be adopted. What are the conditions necessary for adopting new technologies? What conditions prolong how long it takes?
- How might our phones/open office plans be used to foster innovative habits rather than inhibit them, as I suggest mine do for me?