We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.
— George Bernard Shaw

At times, when you look at the history books, it does seem that the human race is destined to perpetrate it's own collapse. Collectively we appear to forget what happened, why it happened (if we even took the time to understand the breakdown in the first place) and what warning signs were evident. Then, without thought, we determine to repeat the same mistakes time and again. 

Fail—Ignore—Forget—Repeat or Mistakes = Opportunities

Fail—Ignore—Forget—Repeat or Mistakes = Opportunities

Should we suffer the same fate in our businesses?

I think this depends on the learning culture of an organisation. A negative organisational stance towards failure appears to create a culture afraid to take ownership of problems and learn from them. An organisation with this attitude runs the risk that their people will just sweep failure under the rug to save face. To individuals working in such an organisation ‘survival’ is dependent on having solutions. This is not exactly a recipe for organisational excellence let alone innovation. Every small failure will builds upon the last until the system collapses.

Imagine repositioning failures as opportunities.

Giving managers and staff permission to take responsibility for failure allows them to learn rather than glossing over the problem. Providing a simple process to analyse the failure, capture why it happened and then share and store the learnings for easy access is a simple and effective plan. Incorporating this function into individual KPI's rewards the effective management of failure and encourages continuous learning and therefore improvement.


Prevent repeating mistakes in 5 steps:

  1. Create a simple ‘Failure to Opportunity’ Process

  2. Be open when a failure occurs

  3. Create the opportunity to question what happened and why

  4. Record what you learn and create some ‘warning flags’ for the future

  5. Share what you learn and make it permanently and readily available


Then with the question ‘How might we succeed by doing things differently?’ the fun really begins!