If You Want to Succeed, Get Used to Failure


This past month has seen a flurry of annual emergency exercises involving my emergency management consultancy, CAPACITY Building Emergency Management. Probably because Winter is almost upon us and who wants to evacuate a building when its raining?

What's been amusing is the sheer panic from many building occupants to ensure that everything runs smoothly and absolutely no mistakes are made. Even trying every trick in the book to get  building management to give up details as to what the upcoming emergency exercise will entail!

There's something that I often say in person, but here it is in print. I don't care how poorly the annual emergency exercise goes. In fact, I hope there are some failures.

Two reasons behind this perplexing point of view are..
1. It means I have developed a challenging exercise that is testing the emergency personnel's capabilities.
2. That real learning takes place when everything isn't as you expect. (Or goes wrong)

Looking from the other point of view is that if an exercise is so scripted, so stage-managed and way too much hand-holding involved, no one really pays attention and goes away thinking they have a resilient emergency mechanism in place that really, when an unexpected actual emergency occurs, reveals how inadequate the system and knowledge really is.

Militaries and sporting teams often use the motto "Train Hard, Fight Easy" which is essentially the same philosophy. Make training and practice as exacting as possible to reveal your weaknesses and develop your strengths in the safety of a practice setting, not in the real circumstances. Then when you do it for real it doesn't seem as difficult as your practice sessions.

There is no such thing as a failed exercise; only failure to learn from it. And that's true for all things you attempt, big and small. Don't let fear of failure hold you back and like last weeks blog highlighted, sometimes you need things to go wrong to shine the spotlight on what really needs to be fixed. We learn from failure, not from success.