Failure is our Friend

Failure can open up many doors for success, it is time to embrace it.

“I never lose. I either win or learn.” — Nelson Mandela. I love this quote because of the symbolism it creates in our minds. The ability to take our mistakes and failures, and make them learning opportunities, is a key skill that individuals and organizations need to develop.

Unfortunately, failure is associated with a very negative stigma. When we think of the word failure, it can conjure up images of lack of success or lack of progression. But the reality is, failure is a way for us to grow, find new ways of doing things, and so much more. When we think of data initiatives in organizations, we need to adopt new philosophies and ideas around the world of failure: failure is a golden ticket to progress! In this post I want to describe the power of failure, what it can do for us when we are driving data literacy initiatives, and how we can start to view failure in a brighter light.

I love to ask the question: how many of us got 100% on every single math test we have ever taken? The answer is most likely none of us, but we keep practicing and trying, so that we can succeed in the tests and exams; that is what we need to do to help our data and data literacy initiatives thrive. We need to put a true culture of accepting, and not just accepting, but celebrating failure. To help us understand new ways to accept failure, I want us to focus on 2 things: 1 Ted Talk and 1 Freakonomics Podcast.

The first is a Ted Talk I want to recommend watching: “The Unexpected Benefit of Celebrating Failure.” One key takeaway I want to emphasize from this Ted Talk is for us to look for ways to cause data or data literacy initiatives to fail. What I mean in this regard is a little bit different than what Google X did to try and make its projects fail. When you are looking at your data literacy initiatives and projects are running, individuals trying new tasks, and your program in place - find ways where the project may fail. Find ways to ask questions of your initiatives, and how you are developing in your personal data literacy skills. Find the areas where you are not successful and use those for learning opportunities. To do that, ask others on where your data skills are not strong and use that for the areas to focus on. Then, celebrate that failure and utilize it to learn and grow in your data literacy progress.

The second item I want you to listen to is a podcast from Freakonomics: “Failure Is Your Friend.” I want us to focus on two key takeaways: failing fast or quickly and doing pre-mortem’s on our data literacy and analytic initiatives. The first takeaway is that organizations truly need to allow failure to happen, and to happen quickly. When we look at data initiatives, we do not want to get caught up with analysis paralysis or perfection paralysis. We need to fail quickly, learn from it, and iterate on the data projects we are engaged in. The second takeaway is something I find very useful and interesting: do a pre-mortem before launching on data or data literacy projects. We have heard of organizations doing post-mortems on things, analyzing what went wrong; but instead of doing a post-mortem to analyze what went wrong, we can start doing pre-mortems to predict where data analytic projects may go wrong. Doing this can help us to find where our data projects can fail and help us be smart in how we approach it.

Overall, failure is a key to success, but it is truly learning from our failures and celebrating those failures where we can move forward. Remember the quote from Nelson Mandela: “I never lose. I either win or learn.”We should all make this a constant motto in our data literacy initiatives.

In the world of data literacy, we are bound to make mistakes. Read how @analytics_time discusses the importance and power of failure.


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