Companies are becoming increasingly interested in the culture of trial and error. First it was all about service design, then agile testing. Long gone are the days when plans were fine-tuned in Excel forever and you had to have a complete plan of action in order to present a proposal.
It’s better to make a decision than to not make one
A long time ago, the founder of Fiblon, my father Pertti Ekberg, taught us children that it’s important to keep moving forward. Development requires decision-making. He always encouraged us to make decisions: making a decision was always a better alternative than not making one. He stressed that some decisions you make will not be good ones, and that you just have to accept it. In his opinion, even a bad decision was better than no decision.
On the other hand, our company culture also involves the idea that it’s not worth providing excuses even for those poor decisions. There are always excuses. But excuses will not take us anywhere – they only slow down our development. Our current CEO, my big brother Pekka Ekberg, always stresses that if you want to criticise something, you also need to have a suggestion on how to improve the situation. It is not acceptable to give only negative feedback. You can always disagree, but you should have an alternative solution to offer. I also agree with this idea.
If we are always successful, we are not really testing anything
So why are failures unavoidable? They are unavoidable because failure cannot be avoided if we want to create a culture of trial and error. If we are always successful, we are probably not really testing anything. Trial and error as a concept includes both potential outcomes. Otherwise it would be called something else.
Trial and error sets a lot of requirements for company culture. You need to be able to laugh at yourself as well as forgive yourself and others. If a company is used to operating according to very specific plans, it’s not easy to switch to agile trial and error methods.
Managers must accept their team’s failure – and even encourage failure
As a first step, the person that is trying something new must learn to fail. After all, no one enjoys failing. Even though we all know that failures are valuable learning experiences, it still feels unpleasant. On the other hand, tolerating failures becomes easier once it happens more often.
Secondly, the supervisor and managers must learn to tolerate failure. When things don’t go as planned, it’s important to be aware of your attitude towards failure. It is often difficult at first. According to the old ideas, a failure means resources are being misused. But those are the old ideas. From a more modern perspective, supervisors and managers should practically demand failure. I would like to compare this concept to close call reporting. Why do we consider increasing close call report numbers so important when it comes to improving safety at the workplace? Because they are a tool we can use to improve safety.
Similarly, I feel like trial and error is a road to better development. We can support our trial and error culture by encouraging people to fail sometimes. When we accept failures, we are more likely to explore more options, which will hopefully lead to the discovery of some great ideas. Statistically, when the number of ideas grows, the number of good results also grows.
Finns are seen as very serious and straightforward, but we are now getting better at trial and error. One could even say that failure is now in fashion!
The author is a second-generation family entrepreneur who practices trial and error on a weekly basis. It makes the successes taste that much sweeter!