• Phil Venables

Shrines of Failure

I was at an event recently where one participant talked passionately about a disaster they had that they have since preserved artifacts from in a physical space, among other things, to encode the lesson's learnt. They take new hires and existing teams through this at key moments - like new projects, launches and other events. They find this an immensely sobering process for leaders and teams to reflect on the priorities to uphold at the time of major design choices. It was a private event so I can't share more detail, but this was an organization in a highly safety critical space where risk consequences have life or death consequences. But it got me thinking.

Most organizations I know that are successful at continuously learning and improving, often subconsciously but sometimes deliberately, build a library of stories about past failures and what they learnt from them. These become part of the fabric of the organization, seared into their collective consciousness so they are determined to never repeat that event or pattern of events; and are also motivated to never fall into the trap of complacency that was the ultimate root cause. Most organizations don't create physical spaces for this learning, they're part of the lore of the company - but I wonder if it wouldn't be more powerful to create actual physical spaces to "tour" these events, to be a true Shrine of Failure, to drive even deeper learning.

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