The failure reflection

We recently decided to do a failure reflection at Alto - making individual lists of all the things we are doing wrong across different parts of the business to then discuss.

The outcome was amazing. A heap of candour about what is going wrong, why is it going wrong, what is the right way to fundamentally operate and so on.

Learning from your failures gets a lot of lip service, the question is how do you actually do this well? 

What is a failure reflection

In its most basic form, it is taking time to brainstorm what are all the things that are going wrong, collectively and individually. Then it is discussing this as a team, to figure out what is true, what is an opinion, and where to best improve.

Why is it a powerful activity

Everyone talks about learning from failure, but in practice, it is rare this really happens. Mostly, people consider it a failure when they miss a specific outcome, this is not what we mean by failure.

Failure is if you are doing the wrong things to achieve your goals. Are you behaving in a subpar way? Are you procrastinating on certain tasks? Are you approaching task management in the right way? Are you setting goals in the right way? 

There isn't a day in the history of Alto that we would call a success, and there never will be. We'd be kidding ourselves if we thought we were operating in the best way possible, and if there are improvements to make, it means you're failing somewhere.

So, what the failure reflection enables you to do is compile lists of where you are failing on inputs, what you control, and to discuss it candidly. This leads to group agreement on what are better ways of working, doing things and proactively removes failure before waiting for an outcome to be missed.

How to be objective in your analysis

You might find it painful or difficult to separate your emotion from the identification of mistakes you are personally making.

One solution to this is to start by answering the following: if you were advising a friend in the same situation as you, what would your advice be to do? 

If your actions are different to your advice, you need to question why.

Overall, you should practise being objective and accepting flaws and failure as part of the learning.

If you do try the failure reflection, I'd love to see the results! Happy to share our one as well so you get a sense of how much comes out - it has sparked multiple hours of discussion and debate about what is the right way to do things in our case.

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A picture of Scott Thomson, Google Head of Innovation, Customer Engineering, and adviser to Alto

Google's Scott Thomson

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