If you know that failure is enviable then why don’t you create metrics or decision points before failure occurs so that you can make unbiased decisions to persevere, pivot or move on?
In other words, if giving up is a tactic for success then what decision framework are you using to make those pivots in your life and in your corporate strategy?
A simple model called “The Dip” by Seth Godin provides insight into personal and corporate pivots. If everyone understood the dip and the criteria for failure, then they might understand the decision process of self and others thus seek learning from failure and accelerate their work.
The thesis of The Dip is:
Winners quit fast, quit often, and quit without guilt—until they commit to beating the right Dip.
Every new project (or job, or hobby, or company) starts out fun…then gets really hard, and not much fun at all. You might be in a Dip—a temporary setback that will get better if you keep pushing. But maybe it’s really a Cul-de-Sac—a total dead end. What really sets superstars apart is the ability to tell the two apart.
If you are moving forward and setting goals and trying to accomplish things, then you will experience the dip. Getting through the dip is hard. Only people who want to be the best, lean into the dip and get through it.
How to do you learn from failure?
Learning Frames should be used to learn your way out of and through a dip preventing you from repeating mistakes, making better choices and creating the best version of yourself.
In John C. Maxwell’s book Failing Forward, he illustrates this point by relating a story about John James Audubon, who we know now as the founder of the Audubon society.
In the early 1800’s Audubon was involved in several trading and manufacturing business that all failed. Some of these were simply bad timing. For example he started a trading business with England right before the war of 1812. That of course devastated his prospects. What Audubon was good at was hunting and drawing. In fact he used his artistry as a meager part of his income for most of his adult life before he became published.
In 1826, now at the age of 41, Audubon was able to publish his book and found great success in those endeavors.
When faced with immutable feedback Audubon abandoned the Cul-de-Sac of business and started a new journey. He did this with a Learning Frame.
The first part of a learning frame is Reason or the why behind our chosen course of action or plan.
To illustrate the power of asking why Simon uses the hallmark story of the Wright brothers and their journey to invent controlled powered flight, which became the catalyst for aviation as we know it today.
“The Wright brothers were driven by a cause, by a purpose, by a belief. They believed that if they could figure out this flying machine, it would change the course of the world.”
In contrast the well-funded Samuel Peirpont Langley, also on the same journey, wanted to crack the question of flight to be famous and be first.
In the end, the Wright brothers, who believed in the dream, worked with blood and sweat and tears discovered how to fly on December 17th of 1903. Langley went into obscurity and the Wright brothers became famous.
I think there is more to be learned here.
I think the story of the Wright brothers shows how tapping into the why question of innovation creates a framework of learning.
This reframing toward learning, rather than building something first, is a powerful concept. In modern terms, a learning culture occurs when failure is reframed into learning opportunities.
The magic of aviation innovation for the Wright brothers came through their deep analysis of how to control their flying machine when airborne. We now called these flight controls i.e. flaps and rudders in modern aircraft, however this concept was not known at the time. This obsession with how to control flight, like birds, was key to their success.
Learning through the lens of analysis while avoiding learning traps was key to their discovery process. According to Nail it then Scale it, there are four learning traps that often derail intellectually honest learning: To avoid these you must become cognizant of them how they affect your decision process.
The heart of this analysis learning frame is to acquire a posture of fact based data driven learning.
“Every time the Wright brothers would go out, they would have to take 5 sets of parts, because that’s how many times they would crash before they came home for supper.”
They didn’t expect success leaping from tall buildings, bridges or mountain slope, which can now be seen as ridiculous attempts but at the time seemed like rational product tests for those who didn’t frame their innovation with learning.
At the early stages of a new product the strategy should be to learn, not produce. Yes, the market rewards execution not ideas, however too often the strategy of a new venture is build a business plan or business models or even products instead of learning real market problems.
The virtue of evaluation should stand on its own but for the purposes of this learning framework feedback works to refine your learning not just the stale commentary on your process, product or features. Every flailed flight was evaluated by the Wright brothers. They failed in new and glorious ways, but they didn’t repeat the same failure.
Failure is often manifest through feedback but in reality that feedback is the roadmap to success if you can only learn from it.
Significant amounts of real-time feedback help correct overconfidence, increase pattern recognition and help us see the truth. The truth is the product of brutally honest learning.
Two more examples of people how understood that getting to the other side of the dip was not always the right direction.
John Lasseter began his career as an animator with The Walt Disney Company. He had a deep fascination with computer animation and the need for deep meaningful stories. After being fired from Disney for promoting computer animation, he joined Lucasfilm, where he worked on the then-groundbreaking use of CGI animation. The Graphics Group of the Computer Division of Lucasfilm was sold to Steve Jobs and became Pixar in 1986. Lasseter oversees all of Pixar’s films and associated projects as executive producer. In addition, he directed Toy Story (1995), A Bug’s Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Cars (2006), and Cars 2 (2011).
Michael J. Cullen, was an employee at Kroger 1930. At that time the typical food store was operated by a merchant behind the counter and they had to get you the products you wanted. Cullen wrote to a Kroger vice-president, proposing a new type of semi-self-service food store with a focus on low prices, cash sales, and without delivery service, in larger stores (at low rents) with ample parking. These “monstrous stores,” could achieve 10 times the volume and profits of the average Kroger or A&P.
After Cullen’s letter went unanswered, he quit his job and moved his family to Long Island, where he launched his concept.
Why did Pixar founder John Lasseter and modern supper market creator Michael J. Cullen pivot at the dip of their efforts? They put a Learning Fame around their idea and make crucial discovery.
Without the constraints of Disney and Kroger culture, Lasseter and Cullen were able to innovate faster, smarter and provide revolution to the market much sooner. They saw the journey forward as a learning experience with a big payoff. They created a Learning Frame that helped them move through the dip.
Learning Frames is simple yet powerful cognitive alignment models that help you develop not only an attitude of learning and a growth mindset, but a desire for brutal intellectual honest learning that helps you gather feedback so that you can learn from failure.