SMART: Start Playing Instead of Failing

I wanted to go back to my last post on SMART or scoping metadata to be adaptive and reactive to technology. There are multiple ways to do this. For this post, I wanted to highlight the adaptive and reactive adjectives and explore their context here for SMART.

The phrase “Fail fast, fail often” is not new. I’ve heard it at conference going back about five or six years. The phrase has variations such as “Fail better”, “Fail forward”, or just plain “Fail fast”. Some say this goes to the technology industry. Whatever the origin, this saying is meant to embrace unsuccessful endeavors and learn from what went wrong.

I’ve always hesitated with this saying. It comes down to the word fail and failure. It has a number of negative connotations. What this phrase ignores is the emotional backlash of the word failure. But it’s just a word! Don’t we say that sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me. To counter that remember the saying that the pen is mightier than the sword. Words can negatively affect people. Failure is one of those. It can act as a super charged ball of negativity especially at work. Perhaps your organization doesn’t allow failure; if you fail, it means that you aren’t qualified for your job. Your organization puts all the focus on success and then employees begin to fear failure because it is not part of the culture. It could be fear also of losing one’s job, one’s standing in the organization, or respect. In this context, it is not so much the word but how the organization’s culture interprets failure and how it treats its employees as a result.

Failure is a reality of life and the workplace. There is a need to see it in a positive light to learn how to do things better. When talking about failure, I mention the “Fail fast” saying and then end on talking about playful experimentation and how to apply it to my work. Experimenting with new tools, workflows, systems is important. This shouldn’t be a dreary experience but rather exciting. But how do you get there?

In my work, I enjoy trying new things. Sometimes these are tools, new functionality in our system, or tweaking a workflow. Recently I applied this to a project at work. This project is quite large and is split into many smaller projects. I spoke to my supervisor and asked to use the first of the smaller projects as a test to create a benchmark. One of the issues I raised is that there will be experimentation to see what works and what doesn’t. What we learn can be used and refined with the other projects going forward. Thankfully, I have a good supervisor. But I’ve also backed this up with data on the project which is all part of creating a benchmark. There are aspects that we’ve changed and updated based on our experience. All in all, it’s been a great collaborative endeavor that has incorporated a high level of experimentation.

But what happens if your work culture and/or your boss is totally against experimentation. It could be that you hear your boss or boss’ boss talk about “Fail fast, fail often” but it is all hype. Experimentation doesn’t have to be grandiose. You can start with very small and discrete projects. This works well for projects that you’ve done before and have data on the various steps. You can integrate one experimentation, perhaps something like if I do part B before A. Gather the data and compare that to your benchmark. I think what I’m getting to in this example is that you need a benchmark and your experiments can be done against that. This type of analysis can be shared with your boss. Does your experiment save time or money? Does it solve a problem? If it doesn’t, don’t get discouraged. Try something else.

Of course, you could say that you don’t have time to do this. It’s good to put time aside to reflect on your day or week. Take this time to evaluate what you’ve done and think about what could make it better. Once you start doing this, make it a habit. Find out where you are comfortable. Try something that makes you uncomfortable. Talk to trusted colleagues about your ideas and experiments. It is this introspection and discussions that will help you become more flexible. More flexibility means you’ll better be able to be adaptive when the time comes. Being adaptive and flexible also means that you will have more tools to be reactive and proactive.