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"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
-Thomas Edison

Most of us work in companies marked by organizational structure, policies and procedures, and thick, heavily documented strategic plans. In today's modern organization these elements of corporate life are necessary. They help us remain headed in the right direction, focused on the work at hand, and completing that work with the highest quality possible.

And yet we lose something as we adhere, sometimes blindly, to both rules and traditions. Now don't get me wrong. I am all for (reasonable) rules. And traditions many times anchor us and provide a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves. What I worry about, however, is at the heart of the quotation from Thomas Edison. In his wonderful book of quotations titled "Worth Remembering", author and futurist David Zach (www.davidzach.com) notes that entrepreneurs just don't get the concept of failure. So as Edison states, he has just discovered what does not work, not that the problem he is working on cannot be solved.

Zach goes on to state: "George Bernard Shaw had said that progress depends on the unreasonable. It does not. Progress depends on the entrepreneur." So how do we capture this entrepreneurial spirit that will not countenance failure and harness that persistence and love of learning that seems to infect our most successful entrepreneurs?

In a structured organization too often we punish mistakes, rather than using them as "teachable moments." Yes, we are working to produce high quality products, or deliver services that exceed our customers' expectations, but can't we do that without creating a corporate culture that is so compliance oriented that we lose sight of the benefits of learning from our mistakes? Changing the culture of an organization is a huge task. But an effort to address this issue can begin with you - when one of your employees has a "failure" resist the temptation to scold, punish, or chastise. Rather, approach it as Edison might have: OK that didn't work. Why didn't it? What can we learn from this? What changes can we make to do better next time? And perhaps the question that we always need to be going back to in order to remind us why we are here in the first place: Why is doing this better important to our customers?

Having challenged you to think about changing what you do and how you do it (and by extension how your organization approaches this type of change given its prevailing culture), let me leave you with perhaps my all time favorite quotation:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
- Margaret Mead


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