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When Developing Technology, Failure’s Not an Awful Result

Robert Regis Hyle | November 04, 2014

Those attending Guidewire Connections were once again reminded—if they could stop laughing for a few seconds—that mistakes are never something we should apologize for. John Cleese, comedian, author, and founding member of Mon ty Python, reminded the audience of this during his keynote address to over 1.000 insurers attending the user conference.

Those who are afraid to fail, explained Cleese, are afraid to try anything. For a technology audience such as this, it was a good reminder that achieving success is never easy; it’s actually rather difficult. The rewards that come from what we ultimately believe to be success are worth all the failed attempts.

It’s understandable why business people don’t want to focus on their failures. Try and find someone who will chat with you about a failed implementation. You’ll have better luck finding someone willing to share the winning numbers on this week’s Mega Millions lottery.

We are raised to be winners and to focus on success, but who among us has ever achieved great success without a stumble or two along the way. Cleese spoke about how Thomas Edison went through 20 iterations of the light bulb before finding one that worked. Did he consider those 19 earlier tries a failure? No, because he learned something new each time and that accumulated knowledge finally led him to a design that worked.

The challenges are more difficult these days. Edison’s career wasn’t on the line as he continued his experiments, but those developing today’s technology are on a faster time table. Still, none of us can be expected to get it right the first time—and if we do we should probably question whether it was actually a success.

The key is the old lesson all of us learned as children. If at first you don’t succeeds, try, try again. The emphasis is on the word “again.”

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