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Examining Failure in Social Innovation

June 10, 2013

Photo of Anne Dang CCPABy Anne Dang, CCPA (@AnneCCPA

This week’s tweetchat (June 12) will be dedicated to the concept of failure, and the integral part it plays our learning process. In part, this it to get the conversation going prior to the #hcsmca Toronto Meetup (June 17) inspired by the Fail Better, Fail Faster, Learn Together (Panel).  Both the chat and meetup panel will be moderated by Craig Thompson (CraigTyyz).

Rather than seeing failure a set back, let’s examine how it can be a (necessary) step towards achieving or own personal and/or organizational goals. When we meet the expectations we set out to achieve, we measure that as success. We write about it, tweet about, publish articles, create infographics to demonstrate this achievement, the effectiveness and importance for stakeholder engagement. It’s no wonder that we hesitate to talk openly about failures in ehealth initiatives, it’s embarrassing and perhaps you fear the stigma of failure might attach itself to you.

social media laboratoryHowever, failure can be an opportunity for dialogue, learning, progress and SUCCESS. Yes! The airline industry is a prime example on capitalizing from failures. Every airplane tragedy has resulted in careful investigation and subsequent safety changes making airlines safer than they have ever been. The approach is, “What went wrong, what can we do to correct it if it happens, and what can we do to prevent this failure in the future?” Imagine what would happen if airline personnel were embarrassed to be forthcoming about mistakes and errors. The problems would perpetuate and the airline industry’s future would be doomed.

Healthcare organizations may also take this approach with initiatives that fail. Taking careful stock of what went wrong and capitalizing on that knowledge can lead to more effective performance for future iterations and endeavours. Demonstrating to your stakeholders, users, followers, etc. that you are committed to learning and doing better because of the experience allows you to recover from a mistake.

Social innovation is fast paced and lacks of rule books and precedent. By joining the “bandwagon” we take risks within a traditionally risk adverse culture.  Failures happen on a daily basis, on every scale, but we do not usually hear about them, with perhaps the exception of the Red Cross’s documentation of the “Dogfish Brewery” mistweet.  This underlines the need to embrace failure openly, fail faster and learn and grow from it. Failures can be framed in a positive context if we choose to learn from the experience.

Resources for Approaching Failure
There are several techniques to approaching failure, including one commonly used in business such as the “5 Why’s” technique developed by Sakichi Toyoda used at Toyota, to determine the multiple root causes of a problem and developing targeted solutions at each level. See this Harvard Business Review Video on “The 5 Why’s”.

So for the June 12 tweetchat, let’s talk about failure with these 2 topics:

T1: How do you define failure in social health innovation/initiatives?
T2: How can we overcome the stigma of failure and turn the learnings to success?

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