NO ONE WANTS TO CELEBRATE FAILURE

Wharton psychologist Adam Grant was interviewed by Kara Swisher on the Recode Decode podcast.  He talked extensively about the Fail Fast culture of Silicon Valley and how it unfortunately rewards outcomes more than processes.  Full podcast availabe here

The theme I hear most in Silicon Valley is we gotta to celebrate failure. We gotta build a Fail Fast culture. And I think that’s a joke...

Nobody wants to celebrate failure. Failure is horrible. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect anyone to [celebrate failure.] I think though we can get better at normalizing failure and say, ‘Look, it’s a natural part of trying hard things and doing experiments. Let’s not freak out and have a witch hunt every time something goes wrong.’

I think where I see most companies get this wrong is they do accountability around outcomes. They measure outcomes. They want to know ‘Did you succeed or fail?’

What I’d like to see if a shift toward process accountability. ‘Let’s look at the decision process that you used to bet on this idea.’ And I’d like to see good processes with bad outcomes rewarded because those were smart experiments. And bad processes with good outcomes, those should be punished. Because that’s just luck.

And I don’t think we don’t do enough digging around “you didn’t hit your [outcomes] - why not?” And if you had a pretty good plan that didn’t work out, I’m much more comfortable with that rather than a bad plan that did work out.

I think I common example that I’ve seen over and over again is an engineering team who has an idea for a new product. And they bet on a new product and it’s a smashing success and they all get promoted. And you find out they didn’t do their homework. They had an idea and they ran with it. They got lucky. I think we should be less willing to reward that.

I think on the flip side I’ve seen lots of engineering teams come up with a product ideas that flop. They did a careful analysis, here’s the likelihood of success, and they knew why it failed and it was a good learning opportunity for the company and too often that gets dismissed or punished.

[As a result], those people are seen as not going places in the long term. So yeah maybe they helped us rule something out, but if they were really stars they would have made something work.