The merits of failing faster | Opensource.com

The merits of failing faster

Posted 05 Jun 2012 by 

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Promoting a culture that supports failure is a foreign concept to most people, but not for the panelists speaking about open government and business at CityCamp Raleigh. According to the panelists, who range from vice presidents of corporations to chief information officers of Raleigh government, there is a general consensus that failing faster provides a quicker path to innovation.

Jimmy Goodmon, VP/GM, Capitol Broadcasting New Media Company (WRAL) and a member of the business panel, explained that failure is alright. You can take the lessons learned from your failures as intellectual property, and eventually, something will stick. People learn from failure and the quickest way to get something right is to see what doesn’t work.

Andy Krzmarzick, Community Manager at GovLoop used the example of the Triangle Expressway, a new stretch of highway built in the Triangle that cost just over $1 billion. The Expressway is not used as heavily as projected and there have been flaws in the billing system. The panel suggested that some of these problems might have been avoided if there were smaller projects that failed. Failures could have worked out the flaws in this large, costly project.

Another important facet of this philosophy is transparency. Transparency builds trust, which is crucial for learning from failure. The panelists believed that without transparency, promoting failure is useless because failure is only valuable if one learns from mistakes. In other cultures where failure is not embraced, mistakes are often swept under the rug. Because failure is not seen as a negative thing in an open company or government, mistakes are published out in the open. The benefit? Anyone can learn from them and mistakes are repeated less often.

Members of the audience raised concern about promoting a culture where failure is ok—especially in the government sector. Some departments, like emergency response, cannot afford mistakes. The panelists acknowledged this concerned and explained that the process of work flow is very important. Every step requires open feedback and many eyes looking at the problem and solution.

DeLisa Alexander, Chief People Officer at Red Hat and a member of the business panel, cited a famous open source saying, "With many eyes, all bugs are shallow." The panel suggested that no new plan is foolproof and any reform can lead to mistakes. They believe that even in the case of emergency response, it is better to have a few small errors than one large mistake.

What do you think about promoting a culture that embraces failure? Have you experienced it at your job or working with government? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

You can also listen to the discussions if you missed CityCamp Raleigh.

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8 Comments

Shawn H Corey

How to succeed: fail early and often.

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roger erickson

And observe all available examples of instructive failure. Social success depends on a compounding factor: concentrated learning from distributed trial & error.

This ain't rocket science. We're gonna fail to scale until we dramatically Open Source all education, training and especially ongoing practice.

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roger erickson

The gravity of a bug is always a function of kinetics. In this case early detection & early intervention determine consequences.

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Salah TRIKI
Open Minded

Some people associate the errors and the failures to incompetence. Thus, I think it isn't easy to promote this culture in some organizations.

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Juan Jose Prieto

"Promoting a culture that supports failure" is a very big change in nowadays culture and goes in opposite direction of our objective: success. It would be better "promoting a culture that deals or manage or learn from or measure work from ...some failure".
Another element that must be known: good products or projects exhibit, as time elapses, some failures (supposed they are not engineered into).
You must take this into account when designing new products balancing costs, performance and failure.
Failures are built in. I suppose you know, for example, that really big buiding projects involve terrible failures: percentage of casualties.

Of course we know that we learn more from failure that from success alone, but it's essential to have time and resources to learn from THAT failure.

Please, don't make a big leap as you mean. Small changes are better.

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Shawn H Corey

Although I agree with keeping failures as small as possible, any successful company has more failures than successes. Look at Apple or Google. Each have a long history of failed products, and these don't cover the failures that didn't make it to market.

Failures >> Successes

It's that simple.

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Troy Dawson

When I worked on Scientific Linux our philosophy was "release early, release often" But to go along with that philosphy we made sure that failures/bugs were as transparent as possible. I lost track of the number of times I publicly stated "That was my fault. Here is what I did. Here was the solution. Here is what we plan on doing so that won't happen again."

One would think that admiting mistakes would make our reputation go down, but just the opposite happened. People appreciated our openness and were able to see how we were using mistakes and failures to make a better distribution.

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Tony Spencer

No surprise the toll road is a failure. People don't want to pay through the nose to ride on a highway when there are other routes. I think citizens also resent the fact that toll roads are always sold as a temporary tax to pay for the new highway but those temporary taxes always find a way to stick around forever.

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Casey is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism. She spends too much time perusing social media sites, and she's especially fascinated by open source startups. twitter: @caseybrown_

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