Know that you don’t know all of the answers. If you assume you do, you’ll never learn anything. – anon
I love learning. I love creating & discovering new learning experiences in new arenas. I love getting that buzz from discovering a new feature on a piece of software (like figuring out the mouse gestures for Windows 8 at London’s Modern Jago) or understanding how the various instruments of the Music Hackspace Ensemble work (amongst other things, they’ve turned a Kinnect and a lamp light into instruments) and so spend a silly amount of time at hacks. One big thing that I’ve learnt is that when creating new things and trying things anew, no-one has all of the answers and sometimes those ‘in the know’ have doubts. Even the adults. Even the geeks. Even those at the top of the hierarchy at work (as beautifully written by Athene Donald). Everyone is trying to figure things out as they hit roadblocks, obstacles and challenges. Senior management are constantly fire-fighting, despite having to communicate and ‘cascade messages’ down the ranks. Coders are constantly building things, breaking them and having to repair them again (anyone had to deal with a Windows Update?).
And largely, it’s OK to figure things out as you go. Especially in today’s world where Google is nearly always at your fingertips, as is a lot of knowledge in the form of blogs, tweets and forums online.
“Success is a public affair. Failure is a private funeral.” – Rosalind Russell
Mistakes are simply a vehicle for learning. In life, perhaps without noticing we daily see the value of ‘making a mistake’ undermined and underestimated. Figuring things out as you go means that mistakes can be made, and are made. Somehow the ‘lessons learnt’ element of mistakes and the practice of writing up, sharing and publishing these lessons learnt has been lost. This ‘good bit’ of a mistake has been disincentivised by the fear of disrepute, fear of downside and fear of whatever else to the detriment of some really good quality learning opportunities. Mistakes made are easily a lesson learnt for you, your company or even the entire world. US blogger (and Stemette) EmilySteezy recently wrote on something stupid she said in a meeting which later turned out to be quite true, there are countless examples of mistakes made in product development which have turned into bestsellers and I’m sure we’ve all heard the story about the invention of the microwave oven. You never know what you might discover.
Some people have already moved on from the 1930s actress’ view that failure should be a private funeral. Literally. Startup funerals and failure parties are beginning to be more commonplace across the relevant startup hubs and it’s not surprising that failures are spawning successes: Hear about an idea that seemed to have legs, and didn’t quite work, then using the benefit of hindsight, you can try again.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” – Thomas Edison
To have that success and to be innovative, you have to swallow that fear of failure. Or develop a coping mechanism for it. Or hone your capacity to learn lessons. You do need to step up and be willing to continue on in the face of 10000 ways that don’t work. This is especially true for leaders and future leaders.
We’re already shifting towards a more collaborative, open way of working where people have access to knowledge and information in a way like never before. It’s important to be aware of allowing those you lead and manage to be experimental, make mistakes and be innovative for the benefit of everyone, yourself included. No-one expects their boss to have all of the answers, but we do expect them to be open, honest, supportive and human.
As for me, and the Stemettes team I’m leading, we’re learning everyday. We’re trying, testing and iterating. We’re experimenting with others (at events like HackTheBarbican this weekend and in August) and we’re learning from our mistakes. I enjoy learning and I learn by doing. Mistakes have taught me that there are some ways I learn best:
- I learn by doing (surprise!) I’m always out trying new things, doing new things and reaching out to different people. I’ve learnt a lot about human interactions, the best way to use Twitter and also about the ways that varying organisations work, just from reaching out, doing and trying.
- I learn from others. I’ve formed a ‘lattice’ of mentors & helpers in life who do things like checking my blogs before they go out, have been in places I’d like to be, or who have come close to where I’d like to be. If you’re pioneering and what to do something new, it’s still possible to form a personal ‘board of directors’ of people who have achieved things close to what you’re trying
- I learn by reading/watching/listening. I hate reading, but have found that in browsing blogs, listening to iTunes U, watching TED and talking to others I get inspired and find out new things. I can then do a quick Google/Wiki search to fill in blanks and then act on my newfound information. Be a sponge.
Make mistakes. tread a path not already tread. Embrace failure.