Failure, among other things…..

successes and failures
Image by Will Lion via Flickr

A pack of challenging questions came to me, recently: Why success seems do not come fairly from effort? Why some people just lucky to get what they want, while some do not, despite their tirelessly efforts?

To be honest, I don’t know why exactly that happened. Such questions can only be answered by those who actually own the experiences, whether it is a success or failure. Only those who failed can explain why they failed, as only those who had succeed with their attempt can explain precisely why they succeed.

But, I do know this: Every process has its own unique anatomy. To obtain successful result, we have to understand the anatomy. Understanding the anatomy means understanding how things work. This anatomy, has a formal name: organization. Understanding the organization of things help us better in understanding how to really succeed.

Organization? What does it means, really?

Some like to describe it as a work system where people work together to meet a presumably collective goal. Perhaps, this is the most easily understood and popular way to portray organization. But, I prefer to describe it as the anatomy of a process. Essentially, when different things linked altogether for a certain purpose, they are being organized. Organization, therefore, is an entity that bears such quality. It could be a formal structure with clear silos and joints, or it could be a line of process/activities. What really matter is that there is a pattern of organizing, or the anatomy.

Let’s return to the set of  questions on the beginning. Those questions give us a reality check. They tell us how things often do not go along with our expectations. We thought we already understand how things work, we had our plan, and we were so sure that things turn out as we have expected. Then, something unexpected happened, and it changed almost everything. Suddenly, the plan we’ve made become invalid, and all reasons fell into questions.

Usually, this is the time for blame-game. We blame the environment for not being on our side. We blame other people for doing something that disrupt our plan. We said that we were not lucky enough, while some others have better luck. Unlike understanding a machine or a simple math equation, we take our failure as a very hard thing to explain. In fact, often times we avoid to honestly acknowledge it and own it. Ironically, it’s a lot easier to claim a success that may not entirely ours, while it is difficult to own when it comes to failure that was clearly ours.

Human is the anomaly of organization. Yes, human. It’s a human nature to do things in their own way. No matter we plan the process and set up rules, people will not always follow uniformly. Unlike nuts and bolts in machines, people don’t have a fix specification. They change over time, and they react differently to different settings. Often times, we consider this as inconsistency, defiance or disobedience. Just about time when things were so well planned, it’s the people who somehow derailed it.

When it only delivered unsatisfying outcomes, we call it failures, and we tend to find someone for taking the blame. Nevertheless, we learned that sometimes this irregularity leads to new unexpected results we called as creative innovations.  If such is the case, failure may not be a failure at all.

People is the anomaly of any organizational process. People do things that sometimes become failures, sometimes become unexpected innovations.


12 thoughts on “Failure, among other things…..

  1. Nice post James. Thanks.

    I just gave lecture concerning the concept of consciousness in Husserl’s phenomenology. He wrote a very interesting argument; “Phenomenological analysis reveals, for example, that human acts have a conscious dimension that cannot be reduced to quantifiable processes, or explained as a product of causal sequences.”

    I think this consciousness that make us an anomaly in the organization, and also make life, as we perceive it, always in the contingent state. Traditional human and social sciences want to eliminate this variable, and see it as something meaningless. This is where they wrong. And that’s why, these sciences will never understand the deepest level of human, and eventually dehumanize human in the process.

    1. Yes, dehumanization of organization in organizational sciences leads to a systemic failure in understanding how organization/work system operates. Therefore, we are facing a time where social sciences are failing to explain crises, accidents and turmoils we have in today’s world.

      I’m preparing another post about this, particularly concerning coincidences and how they relates to decisions we made. I’ll explore how logic, as we like to call them, does not really a primary construction in making the right decision 🙂

  2. Success is very rare and difficult to reach because there are so many things that influences it. We have plans, execute them, evaluate the results, and fix the “bugs” with new plans. this is the endless cycle of strategic planning and it’s implementation at organization. Thinking about failure, remember that human is the center of failures. that’s why I will talk about risk management. We live in imperfect world. no matter how good we plan, we always have “risks”. and one of the risks is “FAILURE”. As You describe above, when something that unexpected occurred, we are not ready to anticipate and “BOOM!!!”, the negative reactions to response first. we blame each other, and the problem become more complex and difficult to resolve.

    Actually, we can predict the occurred risks for our plan, if we can manage them. the question is how to manage? since we realize that we are imperfect human that live in imperfect world, we need collaboration. this is the key of employee engagement and the first thing to do. with collaboration, we can share, discuss, analyze, evaluate, and execute our plan better than if we work as individual with greatest “POWER” (like BOSS). Two or Three brains of “ABANG BECAK” have more capacities than one “EINSTEIN” brain.

    Second, We must drop BEO (Blame Each Other) Culture in our organization. Look at BEO bird. BEO is the best bird to talk, but not in action. BEO Culture never give us solution since we become NATO (No Action Talk Only) follower. Failure of the plan should be communicated and resolved together.

    Third, Placed the right man on the right place. this will reduce the risks.

    The main point is we cannot stop the risks, but we can reduce them with risk management.
    within my limitation knowledge about Risk Management, I only describe three. want to add more?

    Note: If You ask me about luck, this is God’s authorization. God relieves and limited luck or fortune to everyone. We only need to search and use our luck, because we have our own luck.

  3. samakan framework dulu nih pak…
    manusia adalah anomali dari organisasi berarti, manusia selalu “bergerak” dan berproses dalam organisasi…same???

    organization itself can bring the failure from the human actually…and also human, by his failure in system can bring doom to the organization and also to his own…

    1. Nggak sama hehehe 🙂 Anomali artinya sesuatu yang tidak mengikuti prinsip umum, kira-kira begitulah.

      As for the second statement. I wonder if organization failure can be seen separately form the people who run it. Thus, I prefer that organizational failure, if such terms exist, is a consequence of human failure.

  4. Ahh…I think because the organizational failure is a consequences of failure system…and this failure system is refer to human failure…because the system in organization is that human themself..

    But Sir, I have a argument. this argument i got from my reflection all day in my “world war” hehehe…i mean in my office…if many people is a system, so we must follow the system or the system is following us. I think this is called the process. first, we must follow the system, so we can understand why the system can be failured and why the failure not seen as the innovation. but in the next, the system is following us so we can see this is i can do the change for the system. this is my argument and i think this is so easy if only talk about we can change the system not the people.

    1. I agree with your point that we have to immerse into the system first, whatever the system is. That will provide a sense about what is actually happening.

      And yes, the next step is to design and facilitate the change form inside. You made a very poignant note in your comment that the critical aspect of the process is actualy change the people. If the people do not change, than how will the system actually change, right?

      I, however, will throw a deeper question for you: Can we change other people?

      1. Ok sir, thank you for your deeper question. I think i understand what is the point of this question. for me, this is really imposible if we must change the people in individual but we can change what is the causes for the people behaviour.

  5. Then how we can change the people or the system IF they’re afraid or refuse to change ?
    Because most people at work, if they already at comfort zone then usually they refuse to change or to walk out from that comfort zone.

    1. Yes, people will never take a step outside their comfort zone, if they can’t see the benefit of change. That’s always the big issue of change. The cost-benefit argument for change is often forgotten, and change become less attractive than it actually is.

      However, some people refuse change not because of a need to stay in the comfort zone. In many cases, it’s more about political interest. Change often bring new people to power, so the old ruler sometimes do their best to stop it. Simply politics 🙂

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