Celebrate Failure?

Matt Richter’s recent series of LinkedIn Posts on Failure prompted my recall and this reflection…

Celebrate Failure?

Back in June 1981 I went to work for Motorola’s MTEC – Motorola’s Training & Education Center as a Training Project Supervisor. I had just spent 22 months at Wickes Lumber in Saginaw Michigan working alongside and learning from people immersed in the performance-based Instructional Systems Design philosophies of Rummler, Gilbert, Mager and Harless, plus many others.

At Motorola I learned a valuable lesson – from the mistakes of others – something that’s typically hard to do. It’s often hard enough to learn from one’s own mistakes, let alone from the mistakes of others IMO/IMX.

So here I am today, as I have done so in the past, Celebrating the Failure of Others.

Motorola was embarked on an huge initiative to become, what Likert called, a System 4 organization.

From Wikipedia

The Four Basic systems of Organization Likert outlined are:

  • SYSTEM 1: Exploitive Authoritative – management uses fear and threats; communication is top down. Responsibility lies in the hands of the people at the upper levels of the hierarchy. The superior has no trust and confidence in subordinates. The decisions are imposed on subordinates and they do not feel free at all to discuss things about the job with their superior. The teamwork or communication is very little and the motivation is based on threats.
  • SYSTEM 2: Benevolent authoritative – management uses rewards; communication upward is censored or restricted. The responsibility lies at the managerial levels but not at the lower levels of the organizational hierarchy. The superior has condescending confidence and trust in subordinates (master-servant relationship). Here again, the subordinates do not feel free to discuss things about the job with their superior. The teamwork or communication is very little and motivation is based on a system of rewards.
  • SYSTEM 3: Consultative – management offers rewards and sometimes punishments; broader communication stream downward, upward is cautious. Responsibility is spread widely through the organizational hierarchy. The superior has substantial but not complete confidence in subordinates. Some amount of discussion about job related things takes place between the superior and subordinates. There is a fair amount of teamwork, and communication takes place vertically and horizontally. The motivation is based on rewards and involvement in the job.
  • SYSTEM 4: Participative Group – team oriented; free communication cooperative. Responsibility for achieving the organizational goals is widespread throughout the organizational hierarchy. There is a high level of confidence that the superior has in his subordinates. There is a high level of teamwork, communication, and participation.

The Message and the Reception

And part of the messaging at Motorola to help others help them all make that journey together was to: “Celebrate Failure.”

Some of the managers’ knee jerk reactions were quite predictable to this notion that we should Celebrate Failure.

That messaging quip was snappy, memorable, but quite incomplete – as it should have been prefaced with something along the lines of, “In order to not repeat any of our mistakes from the past … we should … Celebrate Failure.”

And then even more explanation would still be required for many – to convey the complete thought.

Probably one of the reasons Deming hated slogans. But I’m just guessing about that.

And of course that longer phrase doesn’t fit on a Thiagi bumper sticker without forcing the readers to rear-end the car in front of them while trying to read the small print.

I recall writing about this way back then, something that’s been lost for decades now, about the need to be very clear, very early, in writings, presentations and discussions about the terminal goal of Celebrating Failure – which is of course, to keep it from ever happening again.

Or, to minimize its occurrence.

And I’ve written before how it is the responsibility of the sender of communications to ensure that the message intended was the one received. Who else should be held responsible?

What Is Failure?

Failure for me, and I know others define it differently, is: 1) when Outputs produced don’t meet Stakeholder Requirements, and/or 2) when the Process, or Tasks & Behaviors performed produced don’t meet Stakeholder Requirements.

Significant Stakes

And I wouldn’t want to suggest that one should consider Celebrating Failure for small potatoes Performance, where the stakes are low to mid-level. No one would get any work done with all of the celebrations going on.

No, one should only Celebrate Failure for High-Stakes Performance – where the Risk and Rewards at stake are significant – and their likely occurrences are high as well.

And we should celebrate to cause Learning to occur through the stories told around the Enterprise Camp Fires by designated storytellers, to be repeated by any and all around the Enterprise Watercoolers – so to speak.

Learning From Our Own Failures & Successes

We can learn from our own Failures. And we can learn from our own Successes too. That would be Near Transfer – in many cases, of some easily covered distance.

Learning From the Failures & Successes of Others

We can learn from the Failure of others. And we can learn from their Successes too. But that would be Far Transfer – in many cases, of some distance. Which is trickier.

Learning the Secrets to Success from Master Performers in ISD/LXD to Both Push Them and Enable Pull

In the Training, Learning, Instructional Experiences biz, we need to help our customers and stakeholders convey their Celebrating Failure messages carefully – after development and conducting Full Destructive Testing of said messaging in terms of their accuracy, completeness and appropriateness – and their effectiveness and efficiency in impacting Performance back-on-the-job, in a positive manner.

But it’s gotta be much more than:

“Here is our Failure! Rah Rah Rah!!!”

I see it as a 2-part message: How to Avoid the Performance Barriers, and How to Recover Quickly with the Least Damage.

Yeah, I know, that doesn’t fit easily on a bumper sticker either.

Avoid & Recover

My view is that Master Performers know the following:

  • How to Recognize and Avoid Barriers to Performance, in the first place.
  • How to Recover ASAP, if the Barriers to Performance were unavoidable, in the second place.

And isn’t that a critical component of Instruction – both Performance Support (Job Aids) and Learning Experiences (Training)?

The trick is getting it from the Master Performers, Other Subject Matter Experts, Managers/Supervisors, and New Performers, as their knowledge, just as the knowledge of each and every one of us, is mostly non-conscious.

What I learned from my friend, Richard E. Clark, EdD, is that his and others’ research has concluded that 30% of our knowledge about the Decisions one makes while performing, is conscious, and that we cannot easily get or tell anyone else about the 70% that is non-conscious.

Not easy – yet not impossible to get more than the 30%.

He has his own approach and methodology for conducting CTA – Cognitive Task Analysis, for eliciting much of the missing 70%. He has told me that his, and a few other CTA methods, out of the 100+ versions of CTA that exist, might elicit up to 85% of what a novice needs to perform.

My discussions with him over a decade (2012-2021) caused me to reflect on how have I been approaching this issue – gaps in my instruction – in my own methods. That led to a book published in July 2021: “The 3 Ds of ThoughtFlow Analysis.”

Master Performers, also known as Exemplars, Top Performers, Star Performers, etc., most likely learned how to Perform at a level of Mastery though some varied blend of Formal, Social, and Informal Learning.

Our goal in ISD/LXD is to provide the Information – Guidance/ Job Aids/ EPSS/Performance Support/ etc. – and the Instruction (Training/ Learning/ Education/ etc.) that addresses whatever the Target Audience of Performers doesn’t already know from their prior education and experiences. Or that is just too damn risky to trust to their memories on High Stakes Performance – with high risks and/or high rewards.

We generally provide Job Aids when the Performance Context allows for a Referenced Performance Response – and we provide Training when the Performance Context demands a Memorized Performance Response.

And we sometimes provide them in a blend – when the Risks and Rewards are significant and the Performance is complex/tricky. If you’ve ever sat on a jet airplane and watched uniformed captains and crews inspect the underbelly of a commercial jet before take-off using a checklist – I’m betting that they were fully trained on exactly what to look for, for each of the prompts on their checklists.

We do all of that in the hopes of helping our Target Audiences avoid failure in the first place – and/or to minimize the Recovery pain, cycle times, and costs, in the second place.

How often do our Job Aids and Training address Recovery from Failure?

I’m guessing, not often enough.

I’ve had clients and stakeholders on formal ISD/LXD Project Steering Teams argue in Design reviews about the wisdom and necessity of including such content. Most of the time it stayed in the Design, and was then addressed in Development.

It was in Development that our Instructional desires and intent ran headfirst into the wall of Non-Conscious Knowledge, so to speak. And then in our Pilot Test efforts we uncovered what we got right, and didn’t, in terms of the accuracy, completeness, and appropriateness of our content. And after the Learners/Performers went back-on-the-Job we can see if Transfer and Impact met our requirements, or not.

And as necessary, we would/ could/ should: Celebrate Our Successes & Failures!

Which might fit on a bumper sticker depending on which make and model you drive.

Post-Performance Review & Reflections

I’d adopt and/or adapt the following questions to facilitate my own and/or others Review & Reflection – of both our Failures … and our Successes. As sometimes a Success was so close to being a Failure that we tend to overlook them and their warnings.

For Failed Performance

  • Which specific Stakeholder Requirements for the Output(s) produced, if any, weren’t met?
  • Which specific Stakeholder Requirements for the Tasks performed, if any, weren’t met?
  • Task-by-Task:
    • What Happened?
    • Why did it Happen?
    • And, So What – what was the positive or negative Impact and how significant was that?
  • What Environmental Factors might be at the root of the gap between ideal Stakeholder Requirements and what was produced?
    • Data/Information
    • Materials/Supplies
    • Tools/Equipment
    • Facilities/Grounds
    • Financials/Budget
    • Culture/Consequences
  • What Human Factors might be at the root of the gap between ideal Stakeholder Requirements and what was produced?
    • Awareness/Knowledge/Skills
    • Physical Attributes
    • Psychological Attributes
    • Intellectual Attributes
    • Personal Values

For Successful Performance

  • Where did our Outputs produced almost not meet the Stakeholder Requirements? And then Why, and So What?
  • Where did our Tasks performed almost not meet the Stakeholder Requirements? And then Why, and So What? What Environmental Factors might be at the root of the gap between ideal Stakeholder Requirements and what was produced?
    • Data/Information
    • Materials/Supplies
    • Tools/Equipment
    • Facilities/Grounds
    • Financials/Budget
    • Culture/Consequences
  • What Human Factors might be at the root of the gap between ideal Stakeholder Requirements and what was produced?
    • Awareness/Knowledge/Skills
    • Physical Attributes
    • Psychological Attributes
    • Intellectual Attributes
    • Personal Values

For Continuous Improvement – Appreciative Inquiry

  • Which of the Stakeholder Requirements regarding the Tasks performed and the Outputs produced could be improved on, in terms of better, faster, cheaper, for the Stakeholders’ or our advantage?
  • What Environmental Factors might be a point of leverage in improving our ability to meet Stakeholder Requirements even better than we currently are?
    • Data/Information
    • Materials/Supplies
    • Tools/Equipment
    • Facilities/Grounds
    • Financials/Budget
    • Culture/Consequences
  • What Human Factors might be might be a point of leverage in improving our ability to meet Stakeholder Requirements even better than we currently are?
    • Awareness/Knowledge/Skills
    • Physical Attributes
    • Psychological Attributes
    • Intellectual Attributes
    • Personal Values

The above was/is my starter list, needing adaptation for most uses.

So, one thing to always keep in mind:

Adopt What You Can,
and Adapt the Rest

References

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