Fuck-Up Nights are a permanent fixture in start-up culture, and we at Siemens are also becoming more and more aware of the fact that we have to accept mistakes, talk about them and learn from them in order to become even better! Simply put – but how do you actually do that?
Ralf Gross and Wolfgang Riedl from the Autonomous Factory and Industrial AI Team show how it’s done and told us about their way of talking about mistakes: The FAIL OF THE MONTH.
But what exactly is it all about?
“I’ve long had the feeling that people in large companies find it difficult to admit to themselves that they’ve done something that ultimately didn’t work. Especially for us in the innovation department, things rarely go well all the time. That’s why we came up with the idea of creating a format in which we talk openly about our failures so that our colleagues can see them and benefit from them in the future. We wanted to address the existing barriers that prevent you from openly sharing failures,” says Ralf. The idea is simple: once a month, everyone in the team can nominate their own ‘fails’ and then present them in the team meeting. Speaking of hurdles: To break them down, Ralf and his boss, Matthias Loskyll, have started reporting their failures themselves.
Mistakes are human – but why is it so hard for us to talk about them?
In a recently published article, Roland Busch also talks about ‘Growth Mindset’ and ‘Learning Organization‘ and thus addresses the openness to mistakes and the opportunity to learn from them. Together with Wolfgang, Ralf has taken the initiative to further establish this Mindset in an exemplary way. “Compared to similar formats such as Fuck-Up Nights, the mood with us is much more positive. We want to show that it’s not bad to admit mistakes, but rather encourage people to tell them so that their colleagues don’t make the same mistake again,” says Wolfgang, who even created a separate award for the “Fail of the month” to boost motivation even more:
With a grin, Wolfgang shows us the 3D printed trophy and the design planned for printing on the desktop and adds with a laugh “The trophy fits wonderfully with our fail of the month, because it fails like anything else”.
We were immediately excited by the idea and wanted to know if any initial experience could be drawn from it?
“What I’ve noticed very positively so far is that some colleagues are already getting on board with the format and sharing their experiences with us – this creates a certain exchange from which we benefit enormously. And I notice in conversations with other departments that the idea is often positively received,” Ralf notes. Why? Because the likelihood of making these mistakes again decreases enormously when they are talked about. Through their “Fail of the month,” the team has created the basis for an open atmosphere in which people are more likely to dare to try something out and share failures as well as openly express their thoughts. It is precisely this feel-good atmosphere that is needed to create something new. Because no idea is perfect and flawless from the start.
Research also clearly shows that failure is essential for successful learning. Without mistakes, we cannot find out what we can do even better. It has been found, for example, that the learning curve becomes significantly steeper after setbacks and that particularly creative people have often made more mistakes in their past. Despite this, failure is too often viewed negatively and is ingrained in the DNA of companies as something to be feared. Certainly, the zero-defect principle, as it is often called in the production environment, is desirable if companies want to develop and offer perfect products or services for customers. However, the way there is almost impossible without errors. On the contrary, failure even brings positive effects, but these are usually indirect and delayed. One of the few direct effects is that people with failed projects may have a higher motivation to succeed after all. In addition, this often leads to intensive discussions, which in turn lead to a better understanding and thus contribute to a more successful solution. So we should learn to accept mistakes and use the knowledge gained from them sensibly Because did you know that the inventor of the light bulb needed almost 9000 attempts until he created it? After the 1000th attempt, one of his employees spoke of failure – Thomas Alva Edison, however, did not let it get him down and formulated quite clearly “I have not failed. I now know a thousand ways not to build a light bulb.” And now let’s imagine where we would be today if it hadn’t been for those 9,000 attempts.
With so much creativity on the team, we wondered what was next?
Ralf and Wolfgang have plenty of ideas! During our interview, the next one developed right away: Why not create a “Wall of Failure” out of the “Fail of the month”, on which all failures of the past are listed, so that perhaps new colleagues will also take notice and not repeat the mistakes of the past And they also have big plans for their trophy: “If we ultimately manage to make our colleagues envious of the award, then we have definitely made the leap to an open mindset,” Wolfgang adds with motivation. Our creativity team is definitely excited about the trophy and the idea already!
Inspired by the idea? Then contact Ralf and Wolfgang and learn more about the “Fail of the month” format and how you can use it for your everyday work!
Our learnings from the interview with Ralf and Wolfgang:
- As long as mistakes are not repeated many times, they are not a downfall On the contrary, they can help us to move more confidently into the future and even make us more creative in solving problems.
- Managers should set an example with an open error culture