Keeping Failure in Check

Our CEO announced that we were going to keep a “fail book” and devote a whole 15 minute chunk of our weekly meeting to discussing them, I internally groaned. Today was the third fail book checkin, and I’ve realised the man is a bloody genius.

Not that Ryan invented the idea, but it boils down to when you do something during the week which you loosely consider a “fail” then you write it in our small, personal books. Just a quick note, nothing too time consuming. Each week during checkin there’d be two winners: the person with the most failures, and the person with the biggest failure. The prize is a lunch for the two winners paid for by the business. When I heard that we were being rewarded for failing, I was a little annoyed. Shouldn’t we be punished if we’re wasting time or money?

A excert from my fail book

It took the first week for me to work out that we weren’t being incentivised to fail, but to write down the failure. Maybe even discuss it with the team. Taking the time to write down a problem that you’ve had (or caused) throughout your work day forces you to think about it for a short while. I don’t want to write down the same thing again next week, so how can I prevent it from happening?

To take an example from the first week (and to heavily paraphrase, since I can’t remember), something a colleague (lets call him Jerry) had an issue with was that the report he needed to generate wasn’t done by its due date. That happened because he needed some stats from the dev team first, so he sent an email to (lets call him) Marvin to request that information. But for whatever reason Marvin didn’t get back to him till later than expected, so the due date was missed. At that point, it’s easy to write down “I missed a deadline because tech team is lazy” (we’re not!), but that’s not really point of the books. The point is to figure out how the problem could be avoided. So Jerry changed his failure to “I didn’t chase Marvin about the email I sent.” It turns out that Marvin just didn’t get the email (which is hilarious story that I won’t be sharing).

I’ve found that writing down my work day issues helps me think about them more, and decide how I can take charge and make sure they don’t happen again. The first ever fail I wrote down was “I got in late because I let my boyfriend use the shower first, and he takes forever.” I’ve changed that now to “I got in late because I didn’t make sure I was in the shower first (when I know full well that Tim takes half an hour in the shower)”. Taking responsibility for an issue is really the only path to fixing it.

So there’s definitely no incentivising going on. Just a cool way of making you a better person.

PS: To hear the hilarious story, you need to come and work with us.

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