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Learning from Failure, Without Losing Your Mind

Learning from failure ought to be easy. Good experiments should fail, about half the time. But failure, it turns out, freaks us out. What should we do?

Runner tripping on an imaginary dog

Learning from failure ought to be easy. Good experiments should fail, about half the time, especially if they aren’t costly. And agile experiments are designed to be low cost. But failure, it turns out, freaks us out, especially when we are new to a field. That might explain why agile transformations fail at a very high rate, even though the benefits of agile are well studied. Folks in an agile transformation are new to agile, and little failures at the beginning can lead them to run away.

In this episode, Dan Dickson and Dan Greening talk about a recently published paper, “You Think Failure is Hard? So is Learning from It.” We discuss the insights in the paper, and how those insights translate into agile practice.

Here’s the problem

  • People avoid bad news
  • People are ashamed of failure
  • People don’t share what they learned from failure (so others have to repeat their experiments)

And so, not only do we not learn from our own failures, our friends don’t discuss their failures with us. So we don’t learn from our own failures or our friends’ failures. Bummer.

We talk about the implications for agile: it’s a problem we have to address head on. We provide some ways to make learning from failure much easier. 


  • Thanks to Dan Dickson, our guest and collaborator
  • Image of athlete tripping on a dog, by DALL-E
  • Stinger sound Swing beat 120 xylophone side-chained by Casonika licensed under Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) to Mindful Agility.




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