One of the life lessons that I have tried to teach my kids is the value of learning from your mistakes. I frequently remind my daughter of Thomas Edison’s famous quote when, after numerous failures in developing an electric light bulb, he was asked if he was ready to quit. Edison replied
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Another quote that I have shared with her and even printed a copy to hang above her desk is from Winston Churchill
“Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”
More recently, I was struck by President Barak Obama’s view on failure:
“Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. it’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.”
I was reminded of my many discussions with my children about failure and mistakes when I read the federal Auditor General’s report on Canada Health Infoway. Although I wholeheartedly support and endorse Canada Health Infoway, I have long felt that they don’t share failures or anything less than positive news. Given the number of investments that they are making it is not reasonable to assume that they will all be roaring successes and, given the statistics on IT projects across all industries, we can expect a number of failures and only partial successes. How are we communicating these lessons learned from these failures? In this current era of eHealth “scandals” no sane person would want to risk media attention by admitting that IT project for which they were responsible had failed. Too bad. If we want to get the best return on our investments I think that we need to openly share all lessons learned and to admit, without fear of recrimination, when something goes wrong so that other can benefit. Failure is indeed an acceptable option provided that we learn from it. Otherwise, we have squandered our investment and have not generated any value for the money spent.