failure2 michael jordanAccess to information is so easy. Track a sports team. Learn about a prospective employee or employer. Compare prices. Indulge a hobby. For those of us who love data, life is a mecca. For those who NEED more data before making decisions, its a mixed blessing. Yes, there’s more to get your hands on. But there’s always more after that. A side effect of increasing access to data is the illusion of perfect data sets. In reality these are rare. There’s a reason medical professionals talk in terms of statistics; they can’t  know everything happening in your body, let alone how your physiology will react to surgery or treatment.

Our culture is quick to point out mistakes and we hate making them – another built in barrier to making decisions and moving into action.

I’m growing increasingly fond of “failing forward,” a cue from Continuous Improvement circles. It’s a simple notion. Gather data. Study it. Make your best hypothesis and quickly move to testing. Learn from the experiment. Make immediate corrections. Re-do. Repeat until evidence is captured to fix what’s broken, successfully solve the problem, make the decision.

Shifting one’s orientation in this direction is easier on the heels of a deep experience of how it works. Shifting an entire group of people is far more difficult. The compelling cultural imperative to avoid failure gets compounded in groups. No one wants to be wrong, especially in front of others. It requires a concerted decharging of the notion of failure. A complete reframing. Failure as helpful. Failure as a means to real progress. Failure without blame, where the only real failure is non-action.

As engineering colleagues remind me, “perfection is the enemy of great.” Imagine what’s possible when we – individually, collectively, culturally – bury those long-imposed ideals of perfection and get on with the messiness of honest living, working, learning and evolving.