Smart Failure

“We spend our time responding rationally to a world which we understand and recognize, but which no longer exists.”

Eddie Obeng, founder of the think tank and online management school Pentacle, is talking about the world of business. But he could have just as easily been talking about the church, or politics, or parenting, or just about anything else. Because we live in a time of massive change in almost every dimension of our lives.

And, quite frankly, those changes – and all the information and data that come with them – are overwhelming. In response, most of us are inclined to apply the rules we know best harder and harder in a world where the rules themselves have changed. Described this way, it’s easy to see that it’s a recipe for disaster. But for most of us it’s more comfortable to keep pushing a system that doesn’t work than admit that we’re in over our heads and start to build a new system.

Ultimately, however, that’s our only choice. Because try as we might, we can’t stop time or move the world backward. We therefore need to move from a system of established rules and practices to one of constant experimentation and innovation. But experimentation inevitably that invites failure – something that terrifies most of us. (And the more educated, the more certified, and the more successful we are the more frightening failure seems!) Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on how you look at it – the only way to learn in new environment is to fail. In fact, we should be failing faster and smarter, Obeng argues, learning from each failed venture more about the rules and patterns of this new context we live in so that, eventually, we can figure out the best practices by which to navigate and flourish in this changed and changing world. Best of all, we’ll also learn how to adapt and keep learning no matter how much things change.

Obeng’s twelve-minute TEDTalk is fast and furious, so buckle your seats and be prepared to rethink what you thought you knew about intelligence, success, and failure.

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