Although it hurts, I love what failure teaches us. These are my thoughts on the importance of FAILURE.
How do you fail at social business? Let me count the ways.
Having worked with companies trying to be more “social” I have seen many fail and many succeed. We hear the success stories all of the time. But what we don’t talk about are the failures. Why? No one wants to talk about their failures, naturally. So we hide them.
But from our failures we can learn so much! In fact, I would argue that we can learn more from failures than successes.
In that light, I have pulled fifteen of the top failures to becoming a social business that I have seen – and experienced myself. This list is focused on Enterprise 2.0, or using collaborative technologies within an organization.
I frequently speak at conferences on failure and how to fail at social business – and what we can learn from it as well so we don’t fall into the same traps.
To help everyone interested in avoiding these failures, I have put together an ebook entitled 15 Ways To Fail at Social Business: How companies have failed when implementing Enterprise 2.0 – and how to avoid their fate.
You can get it for free by clicking the link above or you can get it on Amazon.com.
Careful. This one will make you nervously laugh because chances are (unless your Luis Suarez) you feel the same way, too.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) surveyed their employees & contractors over a year ago. The results came in, but I don’t know if many people noticed the comedy.
A question near the beginning asked how they feel about email. The answer was a resounding, “We can’t stand it. It is a time waster.” Then, another question at the end asked (paraphrased), “What is the best way to communicate information to you?”
The answer? Overwhelmingly EMAIL.
Ask yourself the same questions and, if you are like most people, you will probably have to admit that you would have answered the same way. (You may nervously laugh now.)
In the comments of the above post, Spencer asked, “How is it that email continues to dominate the work environment as the power app? Why is that not changing?”
Good point. If we look at this problem logically, we notice that those entering the workforce don’t use email nearly as much as we, who are in the workforce, do. So, reason would stand that in a few years, because they bring their habits to the workforce we will rely less on email.
But when they join us they also adopt the email habit and work just as inefficiently as we do. Wha?!
Habit is not only personal habit, but also cultural habit. When a new person joins the workforce, they also join and buy in to the culture, processes and traditions of working. And, for the most part, they are not in a position of authority to make any changes. Thus, the habit continues. We continue to use email and love and despise it all at once.
STOPPING THE MADNESS
So, how do we stop the madness? First, I don’t believe email will ever go away. Just like the phone didn’t – and sending snail mail. It will instead be pushed into a more narrow focus of function.
The change starts with you. And me. And Luis. YOU must use the best tool and lead your organizations. It will take time. You will need to be bold.
It won’t stop until the habits of the organization changes. And who better to lead the charge than you?
I am not advocating recklessly ditching email. Instead, find alternatives that will work – even if they push the culture some. You might ease in. Although, if your culture will sustain it, drop it altogether like Luis did. Help others (because many feel the same way you do).
Teach by example. Lead the charge.
The fourth type is Apathetic Failure.
This type of failure can often be seen behind the statements, “I only neet to hang on a few more years until I retire,” or “Whatever they want, I will do. I’m tired of fighting.” They come from those who are unempowered, unmotivated, and lack care – and they are often a product of their culture.
It’s not Pandemic where there is a lot of complaining but no action. In Apathetic Failure, the evaluation to find something to complain about rarely happens. Their unofficial motto is, “Whatever happens, happens.” A “Hakuna Matata” attitude. As was sung in the Lion King, “It’s our problem free philosophy.” It is problem free because of the lack of evaluation. And that happens because of a lack of caring.
Apathetic failure is quiet – hidden. It may be visible to those close to the person, but not necessarily management. They fly right under the radar. Some come in exactly on time, take all of their breaks, leave exactly on time, and spend more time on nonproductive tasks. They aren’t doing anything that will draw attention to them – for good or bad. They will do the minimum and rarely much more.
Intel has a way to vet them out: R&Rs, or Rank and Rating (I believe they still do this). A group of managers ranks the collective employees from most valuable to least. For example, if I was a project manager, I would be ranked against the other project managers in the group. Those who were at the bottom (I believe) 10% were put on notice. Some employees don’t like the method as it forces employees to be put on a plan no matter how good they may be. But one thing it does do is weed out the apathetic employees.
Law of the River
Why is this a failure? It has to do with what I call the Law of the River. I grew up less than a mile from the beautiful McKenzie River. One of my most favorite things to do is just sit and listen to the river going by. I would often see a drift boat float along with the current. For them to do down stream they didn’t need to do anything (minus keep away from the bank). The river took them where the river took them.
This is fine for drifting, but in the world we rarely want to drift. We want to go up stream. To do that, we need to exert some energy and row. If we do nothing, we go down stream away from our goals. Those who fail apathetically are not rowing, but they are not overtly trying to get down stream either. They just float along.
These employees are zero-sum. They neither add to nor take away from the organization. They are being paid to maintain the status quo. I don’t know any company who can afford this, especially in the competitive landscape we all work in.
We fail apathetically when we just allow things to happen without influencing them for the better.
Although they haven’t made the best strategic decisions lately, Netflix has a slide deck that impressed me. (I am assuming it is official, but cannot confirm. If not, I love a lot of what it says). They will not tolerate Apathetic Failure and do all they can structure the company’s culture so that it does not affect their employees.
My Challenge For You
1) Evaluate yourself to see if you are failing apathetically and decide to either drop the cause or, if it is worthy of your attention, to step up your involvement.
2) Find those in your organization who fall in this category and take appropriate action.
“Failure happens.” Is that your bumpersticker? It should be because no matter what, it will happen. It just depends on us what type of failure it will be.
This bumper sticker embodies the sentiment behind what I call Intrinsic Failure – the third type of failure (#1 Pandemic, #2 Catastrophic). It happens. If we want to be successful there is nothing we can do about avoiding some failure.
Indeed, this type of failure is good. How failure be good? First, it says that we are trying. If we don’t fail sometimes, we aren’t trying hard enough.
I know some that never fail. Yet they never really progress, either. They are stagnant. They stay where they are and let every wind of adversity or trial blow them around. (Yet this, in and of itself, is a type of failure.) They rarely stand up and fight against the wind, get blown down, stand up again and keep fighting. All the while, becoming stronger and learning how to adapt and beat the wind.
Intrinsic Failure also is a GREAT way to learn. You see, failure rarely happens without a healthy dose of trust. If your employee has trust in your management, she will be willing to take risks and try some new things. Some will work, others won’t. If she doesn’t trust your management, then in order to keep her job she will play it safe and only do that which she is certain will work. We see this scenario played out in thousands of companies every day.
So the amount of trust someone feels leads to the amount they will intrinsically fail. More trust, more Intrinsic Failure – which is good! Because this leads directly to how much they will learn. No failure = little learning. The higher the learning, the higher the chance innovation and growth. The higher the innovation, the more progress will happen. But if we have low trust, and if we follow the trail on down the line, we will have little progress.
Intrinsic failure is a necessity. It is a bit odd, because we think that in stressful times we have to play it safe, not take risks so that we can avoid failure. I think there is some truth to that (let’s use common sense), but at the same time if we want to progress, we must be willing to intrinsically fail. We can’t take it out altogether.
After giving a keynote speech at Enterprise 2.0 in Santa Clara on Failure, Steve Wylie and I sat down and talked about failure and successes. At about the 50 second mark, I make the statement “What we want to do is nurture the intrinsic type of failure… Not that we are looking for failure…” And this statement confused some people.
It is not that we try to nurture any one failure itself and compound the negative effects. Rather we want to nurture the conditions in which intrinsic failure happens. Because, remember, failure WILL happen – what kind of failure it will be is an outcome you can have a large influence in. Personally, I would rather nurture failure we can learn from than failure that is Pandemic or Catastrophic. Then when this good type does happen, nurture its effects (learning, innovation, progress). As I said in that bit, “The more we fail intrinsically, the more we learn.”
There might be a tipping point when intrinsic failure outweighs the good that will come of it, but I don’t think so. I don’t have anything to back this up except for experience and mental exercises, but I believe that the more you allow intrinsic failure to happen, the more success will come of it. Then, successes will far outweigh the failures (which is a characteristic of intrinsic failure). But if we are not trying to learn from our failures, then it isn’t Intrinsic failure, it is Pandemic.
If people take advantage and recklessly abuse the trust to fail and do so without learning, it ceases to be intrinsic failure and instead becomes a fourth type of failure, Apathetic Failure (I’ll write about this later).
My Challenge To You: Evaluate your workplace, your home life, your other activities for the level of trust and see how it correlates to the amount of Intrinsic Failure. Also, try to turn other types of failure into Intrinsic Failure.
Netflix went from a high of $305 per share this July to $77 in three months.
September 18th, 2011 saw the last of the Borders Bookstores close its doors.
77 days after New Coke started selling, the company announced that they would bring back “Classic Coke.” **
Catastrophic Failure is a type that does major harm to interested parties (in these cases, stockholders and employees). The harm could be economic, physical, emotional or otherwise. It does not need to be a complete failure, just create major harm in some way.
We should remember that part of the nature of failure is that it was unintentional. If you meant to cause harm, you have achieved your goal. But failure is an unintended consequence.
** The Coke story has an interesting ending. This Catastrophic Failure actually turned into an Intrinsic Failure and eventually into a company success.
A couple weeks ago I gave a keynote speech at the Enterprise 2.0 conference entitled, “Embracing your E2.0 Failures” (watch the video here). There I talked about three different types of failures, Pandemic, Catastrophic and Intrinsic failure.
At the beginning of the keynote I showed this video I created which exemplifies the most dangerous of the three failures: Pandemic Failure:
Pandemic Failure has three main characteristics:
- It runs rampant within a culture.
- It is obvious to most within that culture and it is often discussed and complained about.
- Rarely does anyone take action to make the needed changes.
This is the most dangerous because bad behavior becomes an acceptable way of working or accomplishing a task. For example, when was the last time you were in a meeting you didn’t really need to be in, but felt obligated to be there? You didn’t lend any real advantage to the meeting nor did you take away much. Not that it was completely worthless – you probably did get some good information out of it – but what you did get was not an hour’s worth of your time. You could have received it another way in only about a minute’s time.
But we too often work this way and it is acceptable.
Pandemic Failure leads to apathy and diminished effectiveness. And this is why it is the most dangerous type of failure. It allows for growth while at the same time stifles it and can bring down whole subsets of cultures. It gives a false sense of security and at the same time an overall uneasiness.
Overcome Pandemic Failure
How do we overcome pandemic failure. Like anything else, we first need to recognize it. Then, we can’t just let it go. We need to actually do something about it. And it probably won’t be comfortable because it will be part of the culture. It will take guts because you are challenging the status quo. Everyone will be on your side, yet no one may back you. It will be a very strange situation to be in.
Yet if you let it go, you become a victim of an annoying culture trait. And I don’t know about you, but any time I become a slave to something that is ineffective, I feel I must change it.
So here is to all you Change Agents!
Age: We hear it all the time.
“The young guys coming in – they all know how to use this stuff. If we can get them on board we will have an easier time with people adopting our social tool.”
I agree. And I fully disagree.
If you can get the younger workforce to adopt your tool, then (imagine this) more people will have adopted your tool. But we can’t think that just because they are young means that they will use it – because that’s not necessarily true.
The example that sticks out most to me is a time when I was doing some analysis for a customer on who was using their social tool and who was not (back a few years ago when all of this was still young). I found one fresh-out-of-college gal who never used it. Why? It didn’t have anything to do with her job. On the opposite end I found a 55+ woman who swore by it. She used it all the time. Why? Because how she used it was woven into how she did her job.
This can’t be said loudly enough: Age has very, very, very little to do with social technology adoption within an organization – it is age agnostic. I have found that those who are younger are more willing to use it and those who are older (generally) are less willing to use it. But when it comes to actual usage, I could not find a correlation.
The strongest correlation for adoption if it became a part of how they worked. If it was an extra add-on responsibility, they didn’t use it, no matter the age.
Previous Social Business Failures:
- #14: React
- #13: Forget About the Human Experience
- #12:“This Isn’t About the Tool”
- #11: Being Social is About the Tool
- #10: Assume This is About Being Social
That’s right. You want to fail right away? Then react.
Why would reacting lead to failure? Because you will be hit from so many different sides with so many objections that if you react you would 1) spend your time trying to clean up other people’s messes and 2) you would be so frazzled that you would not be focusing on your goal which leads to 3) a perception that you don’t have a clue of what you are doing.
And you do.
So what do you do? When someone says, “This is a waste of time. No one wants to be social!” Or if they come up with any in the list of objections, do you just ignore it? Yes and no.
Think of it this way. If someone came to you with one of those objections, turn it around and pretend that it was a criticism of you. When someone does that, you have to think:
1) Who is it that said it?
2) Are they right?
3) If they are not right, did they say it because they don’t understand, because of fear or maybe another reason?
A majority of the time you can just let it go – let it roll off. You can smile at them and say, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” without being condescending to them. Nothing you can do right now will change how they feel – they are in an emotional state. But eventually they will learn.
If it is someone with great influence, I might try having a one-on-one with them. If they are right, then think about changing it. There are so many possible situations, but you must pick your battles.
But if you react to every objection that arrises, you will let yourself be pulled from your goal.
Stay focused. Help others on their journey to understanding and adoption. But don’t react to every whim or you will overwhelmed.
Disney got the human experience right. From the moment you walk up to Disneyland, you are in another world. The environment is set to walk you through an experience. From the layout of the streets, to the paths you walk, to the music, sights and colors. There is a story behind it all and you are led fluidly from one experience to another.
Contrast this with a discussion I have had many times…
Me: “When employees log in to their computers, they should be able to open up this tool and automatically be logged in.”
Them: “We can’t do this. It is against policy.”
“If we don’t, they won’t use it. If it is a pain to get to, they won’t use it.”
“But policy says, ‘blah blah blah.’ This is something we need to follow. If they want to use the tool, they will follow these policies.”
“But the policies are based off of out dated assumptions. The simple fact is, if it is not super easy to get to, adoption will suffer. So we have a choice, either we change or ignore the policy or we abandon the effort. Which is more important?”
This is one of many, many instances I have run across where we bang our head against the wall because what people want and what the company is willing to give them are very different. We have all seen programs, incentives and tools go untouched simply because they don’t take the humans into account.
With software tools, we often talk about UX – or User eXperience. When the user steps up to the tool, what kind of an experience will they have?
In a conversation on Google+, Rachel Happe and I came up with a new twist on UX, “HX = Human eXperience, the art of creating, optimizing and enhancing experiences around ‘organizational identity, values and goals.'”
When we focus on the human and their relationship to the organization, everything else works out because we are focusing on that which changes – and we expect it. In contrast, if we focus on the organization (something we try to optimize and keep steady) and try to mold the humans into it we find that it backfires.
In the end, what do we learn? Remember the humans. Rather than viewing them as a necessary part of the organization, see them as the organization itself.