Learning from Intelligent Failures

Posted on June 5, 2010

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Intelligent failures are crucial to the process of organizational learning and sense-making. These types of failures show you where your assumptions are wrong. Intelligent failures share certain characteristics;

  • They are carefully planned, so that when things go wrong you know why
  • They are genuinely uncertain, so the outcome cannot be known ahead of time
  • They are modest in scale, so that a catastrophe does not result
  • They are managed quickly, so that not too much time elapses between outcome and interpretation
  • Something about what is learned is familiar enough to inform other parts of the business.
  • Underlying assumptions are explicitly declared
  • These can be tested at specific checkpoints, identified in advance, since planned results may not be equivalent to outcomes.

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