Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Failure lessons in Rome

This summer I was a week in Rome with my 13-year old godson. While seeing the eternal city, for some reason we talked a lot about failing. I wanted to share with you the things we talked about.

Experiments' delta

We flew to Rome from Helsinki. In the airplane my godson mentioned failure and I wanted to give him some different thoughts about it. It is something I remember seeing for the first time in a HÃ¥kan Forss' presentation about lean (and legos of course, if you know him). In his presentation he talked about making an experiment with an expected result. In case the the result was something else than expected, that wasn't called as failure but as learning. In mathematics the difference between the expected result and the real result is called delta. This delta is not failing, it's learning.

What I find important here is that when you do something, make an expectation based on the theory you have. If the thing you try doesn't work out as expected, be kind to yourself. Instead of judging yourself, celebrate that you just learned something.

Exhausted but still learning

We arrived at Rome in the middle of the day, so we had plenty of time to do something in the city also on the first day. We decided to take a walk in order to find a nice restaurant and some geocaches. We found some pizza, pasta, and also caches but our walk during that afternoon became quite long and it was really hot (almost 35°C).

Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, a church visit on the first day

When we came back to the hotel, we were really exhausted. In order to avoid that on the next day, we decided that we need to have water bottles always with us. This became our second lesson about failing and learning. It wasn't the best possible first day but we learned an important lesson that gave a chance to have better time on the following days.

Leonardo's scientific attitude

The next day was really nice for us. Amongst other things we were in Vatican and even saw the Pope himself! During the day we also accidentally at Leonardo da Vinci's museum. We decided to step in. The museum was filled with machines designed by the master himself. One of them caught my attention. It was da Vinci's experimentation related building a machine that can fly. He wanted to see if "beating wings would raise a heavy load".

What was really interesting was his notes about the wing:
"... but be sure that the force is rapid and if the above effect is not obtained, waste no more time on it."

Leonardo da Vinci's wing expirement

I think this was really amazing. While our current culture is so much worried about failing, 500 years ago there was a man who had really good approach on it. If da Vinci wasn't able to get the result he wanted, he was ok with that and was able to focus on other things.

Failure or needs that aren't met?

In the evening we wanted to find a good restaurant where we could sit outside and eat tasty Italian food. Unfortunately we both had rather lousy meals. The lamb was actually really bad. :(

While realising that we had chosen a wrong restaurant, I wanted to give yet another aspect on failures, one that I have learnt from nonviolent communication. The idea is that instead of failures there are just needs that aren't being met. So instead of thinking that we failed on choosing the restaurant or the chef failed on cooking delicious meal for us, we can focus on the needs we had. In this case we wanted to enjoy warm Roman evening outside having good food with decent price. What happened was something that didn't fulfill those needs.

You may wonder what is the big difference here. I have found out that when you look at the failures (and the reactions they cause) by looking at the needs behind them, the failures become more human. In other words this is about bringing empathy to failures.

Navigation failure

The next day it was time to rent a car. We drove to the amusement park called Rainbow Magicland. We had really good time there - expect my 20 seconds in the crazy roller coaster. Ok, it was fun, in a way...

Ranbow Magicland and its wild roller coaster

Our plan was that after the park visit we drive to Castel Gandolfo, to the Pope's summer residence. My godson used the navigator and I was driving. When we had driven about 30 minutes and seemed to be getting closer to the Rome center instead of Castel Gandolfo, I started wondering where we were actually heading at. When checking the situation, we found out that we were actually navigating to Via Castel Gandolfo (Castel Gandolfo Street, couple of km from Rome center) instead of the castle that was located ab 30 km from Rome to south.

Navigation failure you can say but I rather say so what. Instead of worrying that we weren't able to follow our plan, we started looking at new opportunities. Our primary goal for the next day was to swim in the Mediterranean. By looking at the map it made perfect sense to drive first to Castel Gandolfo, where we actually found a really lovely lake to swim, and after that to the west coast where we enjoyed the warm water of the Mediterranean.

Lago Albano - lake next to Castel Gandolfo, great place to swim
In this case it was of course relevant that our plan wasn't that critical. But if you think about it, how often the inability to follow a plan - even with more important cases - really matters? How often it actually brings us new opportunities instead?

Scale matters

On our second last morning in Rome we wanted to try the toast machine at the hotel breakfast. We put four slices of bread to the machine but when eating we realised that the bread wasn't warm enough. It was time to share the last lessons about failures with my godson. While this "failure" was really small-scale in the first place, there was a scale-related lesson hidden in it.

Toaster that didn't heat up breads

The thing is that when you try something new - like new toaster - try it first with small scale. In this case we could have used two slices of bread first and see how the machine behaves. When realising that one round in the machine is not enough, we could have put two more slices and heat them up with two rounds.

This is something that is used a lot in the product development, including software development. It's better to fail on the development phase because the failures are typically more small-scale failures and their cost is smaller compared to the production where failing is usually much more expensive.

Attitude of life

We had super great time in Rome but besides all the sightseeings, comic stores, and warm weather I hope that my godson also remembers something what we talked during the week. Failing is not something you have to fear because failing is full of learning opportunities. Basically it's all about how you see your life. When something negative happens, do you focus on worrying about it or do you take the opportunity to learn for the next time?