Just Keep Failing

Over the holidays I started reading Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography. It’s a very honest and interesting read, I highly recommend it. Any fans of the boss know he is sitting on a mountain of unreleased material, the book explains why. Once he was given his album budget and recording time, he would just go straight to the studio with the band and record songs until they ran out of money. He put it this way; “We kept on, exhausting ourselves in the process, but exhaustion has always been my friend and I don’t mind going there. Near the bottom of its fathomless pit I usually find results. We failed until we didn’t.”


Now I am NOT suggesting pushing people to the point of breaking exhaustion. It may work for a band on a budget, but would kill the spirit of an office. What I did find interesting is that last line – “We failed until we didn’t”. That is exactly how humans learn to do anything. So why would we punish a team or person for trying something and failing at it? We need to built an environment where it is safe to fail. Try something, if it doesn’t work find out why, learn from it, and try something else.

For example I have always enjoyed creating and changing Agile boards. We can add a swimlane to try something new. If it works GREAT lets keep it and move on. If it doesnt work, why not? Are we missing something else? Often you find out a lot about your team and ways of working by failing on something.

How do we capture these failures and learn from them? Regular retrospectives. If as a team we can meet up and figure out what works and doesn’t, then we can keep improving. I have seen this work for a lot of things. Maybe a team wants to try using a new tool? They can set it up and test it over a week or two. Then have a retro after and see the pros and cons on using it. I have found this not only improves the overall product but allows teams to feel empowered and to keep discovering and learning new things.

Making sure your team members are not afraid to try something is really important. We want our teams to feel like David Bowie, “No, I won’t feel afraid, I won’t be afraid anymore”