Posts Tagged ‘Anjali Sastry’

Why is failure your ally and how do you get better at it?

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 12.02.02 PMWe recently added Fail Better: Design Smart Mistakes and Succeed Sooner to our summary library because it addresses a critical gap in the body of work around failure. According to coauthor, Kara Penn, Fail Better explores HOW failure is a path to success. We asked Penn about how you can make failure your ally, and more importantly, how to get better at it.

Kara Penn: Failure is useful as tool for learning and improvement, if we are open to learning from missteps. But learning from failure is not guaranteed, so we have to work at it.

I imagine most of you can recall a situation in a work or personal environment when failure occurred. We all do it! And it’s memorable. And like touching a hot stove, we tend very much not to ever want it to happen again. But if we can craft and increase control over how we fail and in service of what, we are receptive to a very powerful tool.

The Fail Better Method offers three practical stages to our project work where we can plan for smart mistakes and prepare for greater successes:

 

Launch: At the outset of a project or initiative, think about setting the groundwork for both project success and learning—combat common failure modes like not having Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 12.00.49 PMthe right resources or skills lined up for the project to succeed, not setting up a strong foundation of communication, or not building enough buy in to your efforts through key partners who can champion your work. In addition, this is a great time to think about how your plans and proposed action for moving forward in launching a program, service or idea tie to the actual outcomes you want to achieve. Logic models or Theories of Change are tools common in the nonprofit sector that can help organizations think through this. These tools allow you to see if you’re building your approach on sound or faulty assumptions and can be used as a diagnostic tool later when needed to see what went right and what was off track.

 

Iterate: Use implementation to test ideas, and be willing to have those efforts not be successful in service of learning. For example, in a fundraising campaign,Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 12.00.58 PM many of nonprofits use an end of year appeal letter as a way of reaching out to donors. However, this is a perfect place for experimentation using a technique that many software developers use—A & B testing—try out two or three different versions of letters or even methods of engagement, and see which one gets the best results and brings in the most responsiveness and donations. Use this information to build a better approach for next time. It’s relatively low risk and low cost. And gives you a lot of valuable information. Piloting programs instead of launching them outright at full scale is another way of minimizing risk and learning along the way so mistakes or failures are captured early and addressed, while successes can be scaled up. And finally:

 

Embed: As efforts draw to a close, we often fail to reflect on our work, review the data we’ve collected and share out our Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 12.01.06 PMfindings and insights with larger audiences. This lack of investment in learning at the end is VERY common, in nonprofits but all sectors. We are all busy, rushing into the next thing, but a lot is lost by not doing this and we prep ourselves to lose valuable insights—including pieces that were successful that we want to build on, and things that weren’t that we want to correct or improve for next time. Nonprofits can make time for this by employing a concept used by the U.S. military—an After Action Review—where teams involved in a project huddle up and document what went well, what went wrong, why, and what should be done differently next time. Documenting this information and creating some next steps to share and apply these insights can be a quick way for an organization to learn and improve.

Watch for future Q&A with Kara Penn about Fail Better when we talk about the circumstances when failure is at its best and how to create a culture that’s open to failure.

See more books and summaries related to this title:

Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Image credit: Harvard Business Press (cover image), FailBetterNow.com

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What makes nonprofit failures useful or useless? FailBetter authors answer.

“Not all failures are useful. The key is to enable the productive ones. You’ll need to know what makes some failures worthwhile and others useless.”

Authors Anjali Sastry and Kara Penn have recently published a new book to help you make the most of mistakes. They claim that, “Failure is not necessarily bad. Accepting that it’s inevitable, and maybe even desirable, sets the stage for a more nuanced discussion of learning, failure, and success.”

Today we’re building on our recent introductory post and featuring an excerpt of our interview with the coauthors to give you a better sense of how mistakes can be a path to great efficiencies rather than a source of regret or frustration.

More about the book’s premise

But first, let’s review a little bit more about the book’s premise. Sastry and Penn explain that “smart leaders, entrepreneurs and change agents design their innovation projects with a key idea in mind: ensure that every failure is maximally useful.” In Fail Better, the authors show you how to create the conditions, culture and habits to determine what the most effective solutions are by:

1) launching every project with the necessary groundwork,

2) building and refining ideas, products and services through iterative action, and

3) identifying the learning moments and embedding the knowledge.

Launch, iterate, embed

In other words, the book discusses how to address failures and make them beneficial before (launch), during (iteration) and after (embedding) the project’s work. You will learn an invaluable skill you may never have developed before: how to distinguish “preventable, wasteful and uninstructive failures” from helpful ones you can incorporate into your process.

Interview with the authors

CausePlanet: Where do most people “get it wrong” when they’ve failed? Which part of your model tackles it?

Penn and Sastry: There are so many areas to choose from! Fail Better addresses common failure modes at each step—whether at the outset of a project when the seeds of a failure may be sown in failing to identify faulty assumptions that underpin the rest of the project’s actions or a needed skill set or resource is never secured (the Launch Phase of Fail Better aims at addressing this), or at the end of a project when many a manager and team member rushes into the next project without extracting, sharing and translating into changed behavior the lessons learned (the Embed Phase tackles how to do this).

People often “get it wrong” when they miss opportunities to prevent more costly failures in exchange for smaller, more informative, more affordable mistakes. And they get it wrong when they march to the end of a project on the back of a single monolithic approach, without testing and experimenting along the way. Not much can be done to improve an outcome at the end of a project, so if a faulty path is pursued with determination, larger, more public and more costly failures are bound to be the result. Fail Better’s Iterate Phase intervenes here.

On a more individual level, once failure has occurred, two critical pitfalls often await:

First, failure makes each one of us feel so uncomfortable, that often examining the causes of that failure are avoided and written off to circumstantial issues. This is a coping mechanism, but it’s the exact sort of thing that contributes to repeating similar mistakes. Fail Better works hard to help implementers avoid this outcome by creating the space and structure for reflection and behavior change in a safe way.

Second, there is a temptation as a manager to hide failure stories instead of owning them and crafting a narrative that shows why a course of action was selected, what was learned and what will be done differently going forward. A smart failure that drives learning and positive change and a response that demonstrates resilience and action is highly valued. And it is much better to craft our own failure stories than to have others, who may not know the nuances or intentions, do it for us by default.

CausePlanet: What makes a failure useless? What makes it useful?

Penn and Sastry: Our starting point is the idea that the right kind of failure—small-scale, reversible, informative, linked to broader goals, and designed to illuminate key issues—paves the way to success. Such failures are in service of a larger vision or goal, are stepping stones to refined and improved ideas, and create a platform of understanding and learning. In short, a better failure moves you forward. The wrong kind of failure entails waste, leads to discouragement, reflects rigid thinking, “bets the farm,” and contributes to reputational damage.

See also:

Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Repeatability: Build Enduring Businesses for a World of Constant Change

Image credits: firstamerica.com, moneycloud.com, mixcloud.com

 

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Fail Better: Learn how to make nonprofit failures maximally useful

Let’s face it: Failure is universal. It is universally associated with avoidance, denial, frustration and shame. Yet smart individuals, teams, and even some organizations have discovered failure, if anticipated, evaluated, and corrected, can be the answer to succeeding sooner.

Fail Better authors Anjali Sastry and Kara Penn personally have experienced and observed these interactions with failing better and have assembled a systematic approach for improving how you fail. If we know failure is inevitable, why not get better at it?

Our latest recommended book is about just that—how to fail better. Sastry and Penn have designed a purposeful way to experiment and innovate that will transform your failures into opportunities to learn, modify and improve.

If you’ve ever asked any of the following questions, then Fail Better is for you:

“How do I deliver on my work—get my ‘real job’ done—and at the same time innovate and improve?”

“How do I improve my own personal practices and habits to enable even better impact?”

“How can I learn from previous experience, within our organization or more broadly?”

Sastry and Penn explain that “smart leaders, entrepreneurs and change agents design their innovation projects with a key idea in mind: ensure that every failure is maximally useful.” In Fail Better, the authors show you how to create the conditions, culture and habits to determine what the most
effective solutions are by:

1) launching every project with the necessary groundwork,

2) building and refining ideas, products and services through iterative action, and

3) identifying the learning moments and embedding the knowledge.

Launch, iterate, embed

In other words, the book discusses how to address failures and make them beneficial before (launch), during (iteration) and after (embedding) the project’s work. You will learn an invaluable skill you may never have developed before: how to distinguish “preventable, wasteful and uninstructive failures” from helpful ones you can incorporate into your process.

Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights and failing better

The Civil Rights Movement is an example of iterating and embedding your learning. Initially, when the movement did not accomplish enough change working through the legal system, it began to look at lessons from India’s independence and worked with the NAACP to share assets and capabilities. The leaders had to consider the time horizon by acknowledging that their movements in the short run could possibly only pay off in the long run.

They practiced civil disobedience in many settings and shared their field-tested advice with other groups. They were constantly telling their stories through speeches. They continuously embedded their learning when they met to discuss and debate perspectives and tactics. The ultimate embedding occurred with the civil rights legislation. They, especially Martin Luther King, Jr., documented (embedded) their thoughts as well.

If nonprofits are willing to accept that failure is inevitable and part of progress, then they can enjoy the benefits turning mistakes into productive experiences. Both large and small organizations can implement the launch-iterate-embed practices Sastry and Penn recommend in the book. Watch for future installments about the Fail Better method and how you can embrace failure for what it can teach you.

See also:

Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Repeatability: Build Enduring Businesses for a World of Constant Change

Image credits: rrfit-com, thoughthouse.org, morethansound.net, gradstudentway.com

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