Learning from failures in KM

Knowledge Management is not all about success stories. Crucial organization learning comes from failures where planed effort is put to get a well targeted outcome. IN the process of Knowledge Management we call it lessons learned. Experimenting and learning is a continuous process for a learning organization but learning from failures are important in such a process. Organizations should have a right frame work and attitude to learn from its failures. Here are some of the key points to learn from failures.

Let us not discuss our failures

We identify or discuss about successful implementation or developing a new concepts by any organization. But we rarely discuss our failures. Organization has to understand that every failure opens up way for improvements and triggers learning and unlearning process. Organizations pass through a failures and learning process to develop a successful product or services. Here we are discussing about success which is an out come of well targeted approach. Not a success happened by chance. Every failure is taken as a learning opportunity in the process of developing better product and services in a learning organization. But we rarely understand or discuss the process by which the new product or concept is developed. This process which is developed keeping in mind the people and its culture, is unique to the organization can't be copied by others.

Discussions on failures usually not takes place because of three main reasons. One is organizational culture where failures are not taken in proper sprit. Often investigation carried out to identify the person responsible than identifying learning and short comings. Second is lack of trust among the employees. Sharing of success and failures comes if culture of mutual trust and believe exists in the organization. Blaming others for failures leaves less chance for learning. This behavior known as Defensive Reasoning is well explained in the article Teaching Smart People How to Learn by Chris Argyris in HBR May-Jun 1991. Third is availability of platform to interact. Interactions should take place in a structured process by giving the members a free and open atmosphere to explain or project the failures. Root cause analysis discussion of a maintenance group is a good example of this.

Knowledge Management encourages discussion on failures in a tool popularly known as Community of Practices ( CoP). Here members of a CoP having common interest regularly meet to share their failure and success stories and help each other.

Lessons learned

A productive failure is better than an unproductive success. We have little to learn where success is not because of targeted efforts. Where as each failure gives us insight and new way to develop or improve. After a successful completion of projects often the key peoples are shifted to other projects to transfer the knowledge gained or lessons learned from the successfully or failed ones.

Active experimentation

To encourage learning and to limit the damage due to failures, organizations often create prototypes or models to experiment with different approaches. This active experimentation usually does not affect the live system resulting in minimal consequence damage and provides a platform to understand cause and affect events. Here productive failures are targeted to develop new concepts and to better understand the system. Basic assumptions and standard procedures are often challenged to create new and improved process. Without a process of active experimentation organization remains in the captivity of old assumptions and practices.

Learning from failure gives organizations the insight to move forward and develop new learning. Organization should not forget its past and should never try to re-invent the wheel. Organization culture, mutual trust creates an atmosphere of sharing among employees to drive the organization in its journey of Knowledge Management.

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