Jack Welch had an interesting recipe for success. Every time his team finished a project, they’d spend a little bit of time celebrating the successes, but then they spent a lot more time reviewing and documenting their failures. He created a process to help those teams implement what they’d learned from both the successes and failures to make sure that future projects didn’t require relearning the same things over and over again. Jack once said, “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.”

This is an uncomfortable process for teams. Everyone wants to celebrate success. Nobody wants to remember or talk about failure… until they start to see improvement happening in future projects as learnings are applied successfully. For those of you who enjoy watching the Cotton Babies process, you’ll see these theories being visibly applied to how we roll out new prints and colors in our brands. Some of the changes are big. Others are much smaller. Not all happen as fast as everyone wants, and not everything happens that is requested. We consolidate data points and then make changes that will likely help the most people. All of the changes we make are the result of an iterative learning process.

As you’re choosing your own reading material for the coming year, consider reading about business failures before you spend time on that cheap rendition of something full of buzz words. Research papers are a wealth of interesting information. Academics often have very valuable pieces of information about failure that can be creatively applied towards building a more solid business. Social media is full of wins and losses. Sometimes a customer will make a strong business case for a big business change. Business magazines and newspapers are full of interesting tidbits that, taken alone, don’t tell you much, but watched over time, tell you a great deal about what’s helping a business succeed… or fail.

Read. Listen. Ponder. Learn from the past. Document. Apply learnings as you move forward into new things.

As a wise man named Paul once wrote, “Always press on.”

Some of my favorite resources:
Harvard Business Review

Do you have thoughts to add?