Learning from Failure

Some problems are very hard to solve. Especially those that stem from complex social issues. Take something like trying to figure out how to provide a water delivery service that supplies clean drinking water in a remote area, for example. How would you build the trust needed for people to accept the water as being safe? What security measures would you put in place to protect those that delivered the water? If the majority of users who need the service had little money to pay for it, how would you financially sustain the effort?

Tough problems like this call for a different kind of approach than what most of us tend to use. To solve them we need to design experiments, prototypes, interactions, and then test them in repetitive cycles. So we understand that not all of the tests are going to work. Some will fail. But failure is an incredibly powerful tool for learning.

When we test our ideas by taking an iterative approach, we need to get feedback from the people we are trying to serve, which of course includes all the participants in a shura. This feedback is captured during the Discuss phase and especially during the Deliver phase. For the problem described above, we might make a small scale model consisting of toy people, trucks, and houses that we show to some of the people we want to serve.

We would use this prototype to explain to them how the service might work and ask for their feedback. Once we understood what could work better, we would make the necessary changes and then go back to them to learn if the improvements were made correctly. Where more changes are needed we would repeat the process until we get a successful solution. This is what is meant by learning from failure.

Without making too big of an investment in time and money, we could use this approach to solve tough problems. We need to be willing to adopt a mindset where we accept that we might not know what the answer is and we are willing to try to find it. And that includes failing along the way.

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