More Mistakes, Faster!

Posted by jlubans on September 26, 2012

Looking around for examples of democratic workplaces, I came across the English firm, NixonMcInnes, which specializes in social media for business. Few large organizations pursue democracy in the workplace, most are small and these latter tend to be smart and edgy start ups, often in the IT industry.
NixonMcInnes appears to have many democratic concepts in place and I assume those are practiced, not just window dressing. I hope to learn more about this organization. One of their corporate rituals is a monthly “Church of Fail” meeting during which employees can share their failures – "in a non-threatening and fun way and ultimately to resounding applause". This nudged my memory about other instances of staff at all levels being encouraged not to hide their mistakes but to openly talk about them.
Southwest Airlines, as mentioned in Leading from the Middle, does something similar.
One of Southwest’s values is to “Focus on the situation, issue or behavior, not on the person”. Enabling this is an “Admit your bloopers” exercise during leadership classes. By being unafraid to talk about what normally would be embarrassing for mgrs or staff in other organizations, SWA moves away from blaming others, to openly talking about how things could be done better.
I got to see first hand a ritual practiced in Latvia during the winter solstice. In certain regions, villagers haul a log that’s been designated to hold all the past years grievances, sins, wrongs, and mistakes.
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Caption 1. The yule log haul re-enacted on a soggy Solstice at Riga's Outdoor Museum by a group, "Milzkalniece" from Milzkalne.
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Caption 2. A clean slate for Christmas!
People dress up, often in pantheistic and carnival costumes, and drag the log through town and then the log goes into a bon fire along with the year’s accumulated guilt. There’s music, dancing and presumably lots of beer, another approach to drowning one's sorrows. A video made in the old town section of Riga on a frigid winter night shows the yule log, music, costumes and dancing.
In some "future searches" where an organization comes together to look at what’s been and where the organization wants to be, there’s a ritual of listing out so called "prouds" and “sorries,” the things that did not work out, grievances, hurt feelings, and failures. These are shared on flip charts read out to the group. Then, literally, participants dig a hole in the ground and deep-siz the sorries; to be forgotten. Obviously the more open and trusting the organization the better the chances that everyone can forgive, forget and move on to a brighter future.
I used to madden my traditionalist colleagues when discussing how we could be more productive. I'd say, "What we need is more mistakes, not fewer. More mistakes, faster." This ran counter to the mistake-free ethos held by many in the business. My point was that we needed to learn from our mistakes and the way to ramp up our learning was to experiment and to make the inevitable mistakes.

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