Andrew Curry links to Amy Edmondsen’s new book about ‘intelligent failure’. She’s also got a recorded talk from the RSA on the same topic which I’ve queued up to watch.

Although some people who have sat through teacher in-service training days may beg to differ, there’s no such thing as wasted learning. It’s all grist to the inspiration mill, and I’m always surprised at how often insights are generated between unexpected overlaps.

This, though, isn’t about serendipity, but rather about goal-directed behaviours to reach an outcome. Which pre-supposes, of course, that we’re working towards a goal. In these times of rolling catastrophe, it’s worth remembering that having goals is something that used to be normal.

We are all taught these days that failure is an essential part of learning, and that we need to fail if we want to develop as people. But it’s one thing to hear that, and another thing to be able to do it. Because we have all grown up in education systems where failure is bad, and worked for organisations where failure gets punished in a whole range of less-then-explicit ways.

So it is interesting to see Amy Edmondsen writing about “intelligent failure” on the Corporate Rebels blog. She has just published a book on this theme.


The first part of this is to know that there are different kinds of failures. The set of things that are included in “intelligent failures” does not include failures that happened because you couldn’t be bothered. But it does include failures that happen as a result of complexity or bad luck.

So by working hard to prevent avoidable failures, they are able to embrace the other ones.

Edmondsen has developed a model from her research about intelligent failure which the Corporate Rebels turned into one of their distinctive graphics. Here are her four criteria:

It (1) takes place in new territory (2) in pursuit of a goal, (3) driven by a hypothesis, and (4) is as small as possible. Because they bring valuable new information that could not have gained in any other way, intelligent failures are praiseworthy indeed.

Source: Energy | Failing - by Andrew Curry