I’ve learned a lot from the Freakonomics podcast about how things work in our world. But lately, I’ve been thinking about how things don’t work, thanks to their four-part series “How to Succeed at Failure.” In it, host Steven Dubner takes a deep dive into what we know about how failures happen and tries to give us the information and understanding to be better at managing and learning from failure.
• He consults failure experts and scholars, who discuss how our systems are sometimes set up to fail and how we can update those systems to achieve better outcomes. He looks at the spectrum of failures from “blameworthy” to “praiseworthy” as a way of categorizing failure so we can better work on improvements.
• He interviews people who have failed dramatically and they tell us where things went wrong and how they felt about having failed.
• In the final episode, he talks to a cognitive psychologist, Gary Klein, who advises organizations on how to respond to failure and gives us a way to perhaps prevent future problems using a tool Klein calls a “pre-mortem,” where, after talking about a new project, he says, “‘All right, imagine that I’m looking at a crystal ball. I’m dialing forward six months, maybe a year, whatever the right time frame is. And — oh, no. This project has failed. It’s failed in a big way. We know that, there is no doubt. This crystal ball is infallible. Now, everybody in the room, you’ve got two minutes. Write down all the reasons why this project failed.’ And it’s amazing, the types of issues that people surface that ordinarily they wouldn’t say in public, or even think about.” It’s a practice that might have saved me from many of my own failures!
I’ve found the series very interesting and helpful and I thought On Pasture readers might as well. So here are links to all four episodes. You can listen online, download them, or scroll down to read the transcript.
For some reason you have to right click or use control with your click to open these in a new tab. I’ve failed to figure out a solution.