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Learning from Experience, Both Success and Failure, Is Vital to Organizational Success

Craig Brimhall, Harvard-trained L&D Instructional Designer

Learning happens when we take risks that might end in failure.

It wasn’t until I entered the Harvard Graduate School of Educa­tion that my relationship with failure began to change. The process of reframing failures as valuable learning experiences began in a course called “Designing for Learning by Creating.”

It was through a semester project that I realized that within each failure there is the potential to learn, improve, and put learning into action by trying again. Professor Brennan emphasized that learning happens when we take risks that might end in failure. Failure itself is immensely valuable because of what we can learn from it about our process, such as what is working well and where we might need to make improvements, and what we can learn about ourselves.

Throughout the semester, Professor Brennan repeatedly empha­sized that learning takes place through the creative process and that failure is an inherent part of that process. The upshot of this approach is that failure becomes not something to fear but something to em­brace and celebrate as evidence of risks being taken and learning tak­ing place.

The fear of failure ingrained in me was initially very hard to overcome.

I had to start by suppressing my negative reaction to each failure, instead of searching for positive opportunities to learn. Over time, I begin to move outside of my comfort zone and take larger risks, to fail and to learn from these failures. Eventually, my process of reframing failure liberated me from the shackles that my anxiety had previously placed on my learning progress.

Every day CEOs, managers, and employees try to accomplish tasks that fulfill the mission of their organization. Whether their at­tempts succeed or fail, each outcome provides information. Success­ful outcomes can show that the underlying processes are appropriate, effective, and useful. Failure can show that there is a flaw in the as­sumptions on which the processes are based. Regardless of what the outcome is, it holds valuable information that will help the managers and employees accomplish their tasks more effectively in the future.

To create a truly successful organization, the top managers, mid-level managers, employees, and the organization as a whole must all strive to capture the information embedded in both failure and success. Learning from experience is a source of competitive advantage for organizations as well as individuals.

All of us who aspire to be leaders have a responsibility to help oth­ers learn from failure, and we can begin to do this by cultivating our own learning approach to failure.

This article is part of a chapter in our latest publication Rethinking Asia 7 “The Future of Work: How to Prepare for It”To learn more about how to prepare your organization for the future and initiate change and manage progress amid uncertainty, visit our Signature Program Page