My guest for Episode #234 of the My Favorite Mistake podcast is Amy C. Edmondson, the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, renowned for her research on psychological safety over twenty years.
Named by Thinkers50 in 2021 (And again here in 2023) as the #1 Management Thinker in the world, Edmondson’s Ted Talk “How to Turn a Group of Strangers into a Team” has been viewed over three million times.
She received her PhD, AM, and AB from Harvard University. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is the author of books including The Fearless Organization, Teaming, and her latest, Right Kind of Wrong: The Science of Failing Well is available now.
Edmondson talks about the duality of mistakes – some that lead to massive successes and some that warrant a more mindful approach to growth and learning. Listen in as she recounts an endearing mistake from her personal life in the spectrum of Growth Mindset, discusses different types of failures and insights into how they can be reframed as opportunities for growth, exploration, and innovation.
Edmondson emphasizes the importance of Psychological Safety and the transformation from a ‘speak up' culture into a ‘listen up' culture within organizations.
Tune in today for an enlightening discussion on the fine line between reflecting and ruminating, along with Edmondson’s personal anecdotes from her writing journey.
Questions and Topics:
- How do you see the connection between mistakes and failures?
- Sometimes failure is caused by outside factors?
- As much as I try to be positive about mistakes and failure, I don’t love the phrase “fail early, fail often” — where do you think that phrase or concept misses the mark?
- Psychological safety comes up A LOT in this podcast series when we talk about a culture of learning from mistakes… how do you define it?
- Different types of failures — they’re not all created equally?
- “Blameworthy” vs. “Praiseworthy” failures?
- Why do organizations collectively blame people more than individuals blame others?
- When leaders are super negative about mistakes… how is demanding perfection or say they must punish (or saying failure is NOT an option) counterproductive?
- Learning from failure is not as easy as it sounds? Reflecting without ruminating?
- Mistakes in the book writing process?
- Proofreading mistakes that slipped through?
Scroll down to find:
- Video version of the episode
- How to subscribe
- Full transcript
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Renowned Leadership Expert Amy E. Edmondson and Her Views on Psychological Safety and Failure
The Duality of Mistakes
Edmondson separates mistakes into three categories, drawing from her extensive research into the topic of failures and mistakes. These categories include examples from both her research and her personal life. Her favorite mistake to discuss lies within her research fields, and it features in her book “Right Kind of Wrong”.
This mistake recounts the story of a 26-year-old chef from Guangdong, China, named Lee Kum Sheung, who accidentally left his oysters to overcook. The result was a sticky, unexpectedly delicious sauce, which eventually resulted in the creation of the globally renowned oyster sauce. This accidental creation, stemming from a simple mistake, led his family to accumulate a fortune of over 17 billion.
This example serves to underline how seemingly negative mistakes can pave the way for groundbreaking innovations and successes. Edmondson argues this is contingent the individual’s curiosity and openness to turning these mishaps into new possibilities.
Growth Mindset in Mistake Processing
Edmondson is a firm advocate of Carol Dweck's work on the concept of a growth mindset which she integrates into her own personal parenting approach. She shares a personal mistake in applying the growth mindset that prompted her to be more mindful in her interactions and praise. Based on the recommendation in Dweck's work, one should focus on the process of learning and effort rather than praising the outcome. Edmondson experienced this first-hand when her son sought constructive feedback, revealing his understanding and demand for a growth mindset. This interaction highlighted unchecked mistakes and further enhanced Edmondson's practice of the growth mindset.
Mistake and Failure: Understanding Their Connections
Regardless of their causes, many failures can be traced back to some form of mistake. However, not all failures are incidental to mistakes. In many cases, failures are the unfortunate and unexpected results of well-thought-out hypotheses or conscientiously set actions, particularly in new or unfamiliar territories.
Shaping Our Attitudes towards Failure
The view and treatment of failure in organizations often differ greatly from personal reactions. While individually, people recognize failure as a potent teacher, organizations frequently fail to translate this realization into practice. This gap is arguably a remanence of industrial-era mindsets, where expectations for results were rigidly predefined assuming minimal deviations.
Today, this mindset is not compatible with the realities and demands of modern work environments. The culture within organizations regarding failure should be more accepting, even encouraging, as it often leads to crucial learning experiences and innovations.
Edmondson proposes three distinct classifications for different types of failure which are
- basic failure,
- complex failure, and
- intelligent failure.
While basic and complex failures epitomize blunders that can be potentially avoided, intelligent failures represent the unavoidable consequences of ventures into uncharted territories.
To approach failure constructively, Edmondson suggests assessing causes individually and categorizing them across a spectrum of blameworthiness to praiseworthiness. This objective evaluation reframes failures as potential opportunities for growth and discovery rather than undisputable mistakes.
The Importance of Psychological Safety
Psychological safety has been a consistent topic in many discussions around failure. Seen as a belief that one's environment is safe for taking interpersonal risks such as admitting mistakes or sharing constructive feedback, psychological safety plays a vital role in creating a culture that is conducive to lesson-learning from mistakes. It is important to note that promoting a psychologically safe environment does not necessarily make dealing with these situations easier, but instead makes it more expected and acceptable.
Edmondson advocates for psychological safety in organizations, arguing that it is largely influenced by the leadership at various levels in the organization. She asserts that managers should promote open communication about failures and provide necessary reassurances to stimulate learning and improvements from these experiences.
The Emergence of a ‘Listen Up' Culture
Edmondson makes a compelling argument for transforming a ‘speak up' culture into a ‘listen up' culture. The concept reframes the responsibility carelessly placed on the employees and champions the idea of creating a learning culture instead. In Edmondson's view, such a culture encourages members of an organization to approach every interaction and experience as an opportunity to learn something new, not just from each other, but also from clients and the world at large.
By fostering a ‘listen up' culture, organizations inspire their staff to engage more proactively, ultimately nourishing an environment where speaking up is not an obligation but a hallmark of positive engagement.
Balancing Between Reflecting and Ruminating
Edmondson sheds light on the fine line between productive reflecting and destructive rumination, particularly after a misstep. Reflecting facilitates learning and growth, whereas rumination can deepen feelings of shame and loneliness. This might lead individuals into a vicious cycle of unproductive and recurring thoughts. She suggests adopting an objective cognitive process which starts with a simple inquiry, “What happened?”.
This question encourages the individual to assess the situation without assigning blame. It allows them to consider the events dispassionately and extract valuable lessons, thereby directing focus to future improvement rather than past missteps. Reflecting is hence seen as a necessary mechanism for learning, allowing not just understanding but also creating meaningful change after a failure.
The Art and Errors of Writing
As a prolific author, Edmondson provides insights into the inevitable mistakes involved in the book writing process. She acknowledges how minor errors can slip through even after careful editing and proofreading. These small errors allow for reminders that even skilled authors and editors can make mistakes due to several factors such as fatigue and other biases.
She emphasizes the importance of continuous iteration when writing, pointing out that improvement is always possible. Each day spent on a manuscript can uncover not just grammatical errors, but instances of unclear or convoluted sentences that can be rewritten or simplified. The potential to continually refine is what makes writing both a challenging and rewarding process.
The Unavoidable Nature of Mistakes
Undoubtedly, slip-ups, both small and large, are a commonplace inevitable aspect of our personal and professional lives. They are subject to a multitude of variables, irrespective of the meticulous preventative measures we employ. A mistake can creep in due to oversight, assumptions, fatigue, or simply because of our inherent fallibility as humans.
Nurturing an Iterative Culture
In line with her teachings on the importance of learning, Edmondson highlights the benefits of fostering an iterative culture. Within this model, organizations are encouraged to continuously learn and adapt their practices based on insights from mistakes and successes alike.
The Decisiveness of Title Selection
Book titles hold an integral role in attracting potential readers, and, as revealed by Edmondson, the process of naming a book can also be prone to errors. She discloses the careful consideration behind her book title, “Right Kind of Wrong” and the decision to exclude the article ‘the' for stylistic reasons. Despite noticing occasional erroneous inclusions, she garners a positive outlook from it, simply indicating that her work is being discussed and appreciated.
Embracing this spirit of learning and adaptation even for individuals in positions of authority can serve as a powerful example for others and help cultivate a culture that wider society can emulate. Essentially, mistakes aren't necessarily a pitfall; they transform into stepping stones when approached with a psychologically safe, learning, and iterative mindset.
Automated Transcript (May Contain Mistakes)
Mark Graban: Welcome back to my favorite mistake. I'm Mark Graban. Our guest today is Amy C. Edmondson, the Novartis professor of leadership and management at the Harvard Business School. She's renowned for her research on psychological safety for more than 20 years now.
Mark Graban: She was named in 2021 and again just very recently by Thinkers 50 as the number one management thinker in the world. Her TEd Talk, how to Turn a Group of strangers into a team, has been viewed over 3 million times. She received her degrees, her PhD, AM and AB from Harvard University, and she's the author of books including the Fearless Organization, a great book on psychological safety, book teaming, and some related books there. And her latest, Right Kind of Wrong, was released, I believe, in September, and it's certainly available now. So, Amy, welcome to the podcast.
Mark Graban: How are you?
Amy Edmondson: I'm great. Thank you for having me.
Mark Graban: Well, I'm excited to talk about the book and to talk about psychological safety. That's a topic that has been brought up by many, many guests on the show here. But we do always kind of start with a standard question here. So what would you say is your favorite mistake, or at least a favorite mistake?
Amy Edmondson: Well, I have two categories of favorite mistakes because I've been studying mistakes and failures for 30 years. Most of my stories are from my research, even though I have many, many mistakes in my own life. So let me give you two. One is one that I write about in right kind of wrong, which was, it's an old mistake, but it's such a good one. It occurs back in 1888, when a young man named Lee Kum Sheng, who was a 26 year old chef at a restaurant in Guangdong in China, left his oysters cooking too long.
Amy Edmondson: He basically burnt the oysters, which is a mistake, not a desirable one. And ingredients are costly and margins are tight. So this matters. And because he left it too long and burnt it up, he came back to this sticky brown mess. He decided smartly to taste it, and it was delicious.
Amy Edmondson: And that is how oyster sauce was born. And when his grandson died in 2021, the family was worth more than 17 billion as a result of that mistake. So that, to me, is, that's why it's a favorite, right? Because it's just quintessential, something you didn't mean to do and probably in the moment, felt very bad about doing that, gave birth to a powerhouse company.
Mark Graban: Now, can we talk about that one a little bit more before the second story? So, within the framework of your book and what you've written about before, burning the oysters is what you would call a basic failure, correct.
Amy Edmondson: Yes.
Mark Graban: Just not doing what you.
Amy Edmondson: A single human error in known territory.
Mark Graban: But now tasting that sauce, that could have been a mistake. That was more now on the innovation front, to take a risk tasting something.
Amy Edmondson: It'S a pretty small risk, if you think about it. What's the worst that can happen? You spit it out. It tastes terrible. But why not, right?
Amy Edmondson: So I would say that the act of tasting it was maybe an act of curiosity, but certainly a kind of why not, right. This sort of undesired thing has happened. Why not? And then recognize its deliciousness probably wasn't too hard to recognize. But to decide, wait a minute, I may be onto something that could easily have not happened.
Amy Edmondson: Right. You could have just gone home and told your wife, I burnt the oysters. But it was okay. It tasted pretty good. But to kind of think, wait a minute, maybe there's a product that I could make and bottle here that's pretty interesting.
Mark Graban: Yeah. Overcooked doesn't bring the same danger as undercooked would in the world of food. And I'm guessing the chef.
Amy Edmondson: Great point, knew that.
Mark Graban: But it's good that the chef there didn't, like, in a fit of anger, throw the pan or do things right.
Amy Edmondson: I love that. Yeah, throw the pan at the wall or whatever.
Mark Graban: So a couple of different types of failures. It starts to do with the categorization and is helpful, and I think we'll come back and dig more into that. But I'm sorry I cut you off. There was a second example.
Amy Edmondson: Well, I was going to say, I might as well give it. I mean, this is a very small one, but it was a failure on my part. I mean, a mistake. Sorry, a mistake on my part. I was a huge fan of Carol Dweck's work on growth Mindset.
Amy Edmondson: I read the book mindset. I did my best as a parent to respond to my sons in a way that encouraged a growth mindset. But in one moment on a ski slope, when my younger son, who was maybe seven or eight years old, asked me to watch him come down the slope, stand at the bottom and watch, and I did. And he came down and he said, how did I do? And I said, you did great.
Amy Edmondson: Now, in growth mindset terms, that is a mistake. You don't praise the outcome. You comment on the process.
Mark Graban: You're sort of effort.
Amy Edmondson: Yeah. And of course, he wasn't exactly an Olympic level skier. He was just a little kid learning and snowplowing and trying to make his turns carefully. So it's a mistake. It's not really the way you want to interact.
Amy Edmondson: It's just like, praise for everything, uniformly, and nothing useful in that content. But to his credit, Nick looked up at me and said, can't you tell me anything I didn't do well so that I can get wow. Wow. Right? Wow.
Amy Edmondson: I said, I've got one. Like, I've got a kid who's got a growth mindset, even if I'm making mistakes all the time. It was pretty cool.
Mark Graban: Now, from that moment, did that help you? We all slip up, right? We can learn something, and we can know something is a mistake, and we might still repeat it. But did that help you be more mindful about not repeating that small parenting mistake?
Amy Edmondson: Yes, it did. I mean, I was so flabbergasted by his insight to understand that that wasn't helpful to him that it absolutely led me to be more thoughtful and more conscious about. So I really would discipline myself to say, to comment on process, and I really like how you're approaching this problem set. Not, oh, aren't you smart that you're solving that difficult problem so darn quickly? But to comment on process, I think that reflection, that moment, it was so stunning for me that I did become more mindful going forward.
Mark Graban: Yeah, that's great. So I'd love to hear some of your thoughts. Amy, we've already touched on. We've got these two words, mistake and failure. How do you see the connections between those words?
Amy Edmondson: So many failures in our lives, in our jobs, in our companies, are caused by mistakes. But not all failures are caused by mistakes. Some failures are the undesired results of thoughtful hypotheses, of trying something out on purpose in new territory and hoping you're right. But in fact, alas, you're wrong. So that's a failure, but it's not a mistake.
Amy Edmondson: There's no mistake in sight, especially if you define a mistake as a deviation from a known practice or protocol.
Mark Graban: Yeah, and there's different dictionary definitions of the word mistake being more of an action that leads to some sort of bad or unexpected outcome. And that's where, to me, anyway, I think of the mistake. It could be an action or an inaction, possibly leading to a failure, right?
Amy Edmondson: Yes. Right. In fact, many mistakes, fortunately, don't lead to failures. Right. We can make a dozen mistakes a day and get away with most of them, and you notice that you've done it.
Amy Edmondson: But thankfully, nothing really bad happened.
Mark Graban: But then, in business, I totally agree with you that not all failures are caused by mistakes. Some business failures could be caused by outside factors. Maybe the mistake is not recognizing a shift with new competition, but it's not a simple mistake.
Amy Edmondson: It's not a simple mistake. It's not a failure to observe and use existing knowledge. You could call those judgment errors, but it's often a judgment whether or not it's an error. Sometimes it really is. Yeah.
Amy Edmondson: If you'd been a little more thoughtful, that would have been clear. But quite often, no, it's. In hindsight, it's clear. But at the outset, it might not have been clear.
Mark Graban: Well, and then there's that question of, in the moment, we see this happen a lot. It's in the news. You might hear it at work where somebody makes a decision and someone else says, that's a mistake. Well, that other person maybe has a different hypothesis about what's about to take place. We don't know.
Amy Edmondson: Right. It's a different prediction. They have a different prediction than you. Now, I do think you should be motivated to listen to why they see it differently, because that may, in fact, change your mind. But it may be that neither that there's uncertainty and you have a different view, and it's really not knowable unless you go try it.
Mark Graban: Yeah. So one thing you wrote about that really resonated with me is there's a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, variations of fail early, fail often. And I don't think failing is the end goal. Like failing often. Where do you think that phrase somehow kind of misses the mark?
Amy Edmondson: Well, I think it misses the mark by inadvertently implying, maybe not on purpose, but inadvertently implying a kind of one size fits all prescription, that all of us should be more willing to fail early and fail often. Well, yes, Anne, only in certain conditions is that helpful advice. And for me, those conditions are absolutely limited to when we are knowingly in new territory and when the stakes are manageable. The risks are manageable then, because there's no other way to get the knowledge you truly want and need. You've got to try things because you're not trying them hoping they fail.
Amy Edmondson: You're trying hoping they succeed. You really hope you're right with your hypothesis or with your test, and you just are willing and emotionally ready to accept the possibility you might not be right. I mean, I think that's what that phrase is all about. And in that sense, it's powerful and useful. But let's limit it to the context where it makes sense.
Amy Edmondson: And let's also be clear that we're not setting out to fail, we're setting out to experiment. It becomes quite obvious how nonsensical. It would be to tell people in a cardiac surgery operating room, fail off, fail early, fail off. And it's like, what are you talking about? No, thank you.
Amy Edmondson: Or passenger air travel. No, that's dumb.
Mark Graban: Yeah. And being open to the idea that we could be wrong, that we could fail, then I think if we are able to detect that, willing to admit that, adjust and learn. I mean, the phrase might be fail early, learn from it, succeed later. That's not as pithy.
Amy Edmondson: Yeah. If you're going to have failures, it's better to have them early, and it's better to have them small. Right. And steal yourself, too, because even though they're early and they're small, you still won't like them in the moment. You'll still be disappointed.
Amy Edmondson: And yet, probably the thing I've spent the most time exploring from a research point of view is, can you talk about them? Are you willing to talk about them? Is your team kind of place where people talk about them? Because that's just so crucial. Because you'll learn.
Amy Edmondson: I hope you'll learn. I mean, you won't learn if you don't reflect, but it's even better if all your colleagues can learn, too, and thereby prevent the preventable failure of repeating that same failure.
Mark Graban: Yeah. And there's a lot of different directions this conversation can go from here. But maybe let's touch on psychological safety. Like, there's. There's people's, if you will, I don't know, willingness to admit an error, but given a certain situation, it might not feel safe.
Mark Graban: Can you give us your definition of psychological safety and why that's necessary to have a culture of learning from mistakes.
Amy Edmondson: I define psychological safety as a belief that your context is safe for interpersonal risks, like speaking up to ask for help when you're in over your head. Like speaking up to admit a mistake or acknowledge a failure or point to someone else's mistake, that you see them happening. And I think it's important to clarify. I'm not aware of any place on Earth where that's easy, but I am aware of places where people believe it's expected, it's acceptable. You won't be rejected by your colleagues.
Amy Edmondson: We understand we have to do that, whether it's to provide safe patient care or to develop really innovative products and services. People just say, that's what we got to do around here, even though it isn't fun.
Mark Graban: Yeah. And I've been in some workplaces that are very low in that spectrum, or at least I felt it, and I've thankfully been part of some teams where I felt like it was very high and I saw it demonstrated where it was a norm of somebody sharing, hey, here's a mistake I made this week, even if it was in that basic failure kind of realm, just to say, hey, just so you know, because the same thing might happen to you in the way we use Gmail or something mundane like that.
Amy Edmondson: Right.
Mark Graban: And then when the CEO speaks up and says, oh, well, oh, gosh, that's happened to me.
Amy Edmondson: Yes.
Mark Graban: Here's something I did that I think helps. I think represents high psychological safety.
Amy Edmondson: It represents it and it reinforces it, which is so great. Right. Because it can be a kind of positive feedback loop in the same way that it can be a negative feedback loop. If someone speaks up earnestly and honestly about something they did wrong and then they get pounced on, they're never going to do it again.
Mark Graban: Right. We learn quickly.
Amy Edmondson: One trial learning.
Mark Graban: Yeah. So back to the breakdown of different types of failures that I think you spell out really clearly in the book. There's some stories in there about developing a brand new surgical procedure on the leading edge of innovation versus. I had a guest on this podcast a long time ago who was an anesthesiologist who admitted, I think, what we would call a basic failure of an attending surgeon or another resident surgeon. My mistake.
Mark Graban: Cutting into the wrong side of the patient on a very routine procedure. Think of situations like that, and you use these two different words in the book, praiseworthy. And I'll say this carefully because I know there's a lot of nuance. You get into blame worthy.
Amy Edmondson: Right.
Mark Graban: Thinking of two different situations like that, what are your thoughts?
Amy Edmondson: Well, we need to know more about them. So let me first describe what I call the three types, or three archetypes of failure. And you're absolutely right that the sort of wrong side surgery can almost always be categorized as a basic failure because it is like a single cause. Basic failure has the single cause, usually human error. I mean, I suppose occasionally some unexpected event from the outside might just come in and turn off the power or something and could still be a basic failure.
Amy Edmondson: One cause, right. One cause, bad outcome. And it's very hard for me to imagine a wrong side surgery that isn't a basic feather. Right. Because you knew in advance which was the diseased side, and maybe the X ray was put up backwards or something.
Amy Edmondson: But it's an error, right? It's an error. Let's not have those. In fact, I think we should all be dedicating ourselves to making basic failures few and far between. Complex failures are multicausal, and generally the quintessential complex failure has many causes that happen, many factors that happen to line up in just the wrong way and create a failure where none of them on their own would have led to a bad outcome.
Amy Edmondson: It was the combination of them, and I've studied many of them. But maybe one of the best known ones in the world today is the Boeing seven three seven max airline crashes. Those were quintessential complex failures. And I won't go into the 20 or 30 factors that come together, but those, too, when we're at our best, are preventable. That when we speak up quickly and early about a concern about way something's unfolding or some small deviation that we see, that on its own might not seem like much, but could create a vulnerability.
Amy Edmondson: So at our best, high reliability organizations, we're not mistake free because we fallible human beings will always make mistakes, but we can be reasonably failure free because we can get very, very good at catching and correcting before bad things happen. And then the third kind of failure are, I call them intelligent failures, and they are the undesired but thoughtful foray into new territory where literally there was no other way to know what would happen without trying it, without that experiment. So that's the three types of failure. Now, what I say, just to kind of illustrate the idea that in most organizations, we don't have what we might call a healthy failure culture or a healthy mistake cultuRe, is that if you think about any failure in an organization that's big enough to care about, it's not just a paper cut, and you have to ask the question, as one always does, like, what caused it? And then let's say we step back and we figure out what caused it.
Amy Edmondson: Then I say, well, there's a spectrum of possibilities of causes, so this is different than the type of failure, but it's the types of causes. And I can array those types of causes on a spectrum from totally blameworthy to totally praiseworthy, whereas blameworthy is sabotage. Deliberately doing the wrong thing, maybe deliberately turning that X ray around the wrong way so that a surgeon would harm the patient. I mean, unthinkable. I cannot think of anything like that ever happening.
Amy Edmondson: But if that were to happen, all of us, I think, would recommend you're out. That's it. It's a totally blameworthy act, and it's not acceptable under any conditions. Now, let's go all the way to the other side of the spectrum, where I have a thoughtful experiment that ends in failure. That's a praiseworthy action as long as it was thoughtful and not foolhardy.
Amy Edmondson: Right? So you did your homework. You thought it through. You thought this might help our customers, and you were wrong. Okay?
Amy Edmondson: So we should be giving you a nice round of applause. Here's the kind of litmus test that I like to play with for organizations or teams, which is, I just say, sort of hypothetically, what percent of failures are caused by blameworthy acts? And people usually say, oh, very few. They're even reluctant to give a number, but it's just not how we roll. And then I say, okay, I buy it.
Amy Edmondson: Then I say, well, what percent of failures in your organization get treated as if they were caused by blame worthy acts? And then there's usually laughter or a gasp where it's, oh, all of them or most of them. And so they're illustrating to themselves that we still don't have the right mindset around failures. Right. When we realize that we're fallible human beings, we will make mistakes.
Amy Edmondson: There will be accidents, there will be experiments that don't pan out. How do we react to them in such a way that truly keep encouraging people to try their hardest in our naturally volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous world?
Mark Graban: Yeah. And what you point out through surveying people that way lines up to something. I've observed that there's this interesting gap where on an individual level, people say things like, oh, failure, mistakes can be your best teacher, some variation of that phrase that seems not controversial. And then how does that then not translate? When an organization is a collection of people, the organization seems to lose sight.
Amy Edmondson: It's true. I think it's old habits, like old incentive structures, mindsets that are vestige from the industrial era, where you really could put in place plans or processes to be followed and expect with a high degree of certainty that if that plan or process is followed, the result would be exactly what was desired, what was needed, or Model T. For there it is at the very end of the line, just as you expect. And if you don't get that Model T at the end of the line, then that means somebody somewhere didn't do what they were told. It's just laughable to think about how few of our work environments in the 21st century fit into that kind of sort of predictable space, and yet our habits are holding on tight.
Amy Edmondson: Our habits and our mindsets.
Mark Graban: Yeah. And then one of those old habits or mindsets that I still run across. Earlier, we talked about people who might be, I don't know, almost flippant about failure. Like, oh, fail early, fail often. But they're being reckless.
Mark Graban: They're not doing thoughtful experiments as you're pointing out. It's not guaranteed that failure leads to learning either. Right. So people just say, hey, who cares? We're going to go try.
Mark Graban: We'll fail early, fail often.
Amy Edmondson: They might go out of business sloppy and wasteful. Right? So if you have a failure and you don't learn from it, I think that's just waste. You've made this investment, you've bought this thing, but now use it, right? Use your investment to inform your future.
Mark Graban: And then there's that second cause of waste. I guess. When leaders are super negative about mistakes, they'll say things like, failure is not an option, they'll demand action.
Amy Edmondson: Right.
Mark Graban: I've heard leaders say things like, well, when people make mistakes, I mean, we have to punish them. Otherwise we're giving permission for more. And that's always like, my head has not literally exploded from that.
Amy Edmondson: Right. But it's quite illogical because, in fact, it's not only illogical, it's counterproductive. It's illogical because you're assuming that people make mistakes because they're not trying hard enough, they're not motivated to avoid them. And it's counterproductive because when you take that stance, you don't make humans suddenly perfect. What happens is you just increase dramatically the chances that you won't hear the truth anymore.
Amy Edmondson: And that isn't a good outcome.
Mark Graban: And we see, and you quoted the late, great W. Edwards Deming in the book. And there's famous stories going back to Deming's days of plant managers demanding zero injuries. And we were going to give a prize if we have zero injuries. And people just stopped reporting the obvious visible injuries that had occurred right.
Mark Graban: Then in your work around psychological safety, there are things that we can do, even in a healthcare setting to help people feel safe. Not just that they're speaking up, but they're actually being heard and that it's leading to improvement. Can you share some thoughts on trying to shift that culture to one where there are more reports?
Amy Edmondson: Right. In fact, my initial interest in and sort of discovery of differences in psychological safety came from a study of medication errors. And what I stumbled into by accident without looking for this, was phenomenal differences, substantial differences in reporting behavior, sort of the willingness to report the things that went wrong. And that sort of struck me as quite interesting. Right.
Amy Edmondson: Because if people can't report, then we collectively, their teams, their organizations, can't Learn, and that's risky. It seemed to me. So then I wanted to understand, well, what would make it possible for people over here, one part of an organization, to willingly speak up with these interpersonally threatening messages, whereas another part of the organization, like, no way know how. It's easy to understand the implications. But what were the factors that explained that?
Amy Edmondson: Because they have the same senior leadership, they have the same kind of culture and education and so on, but there's this difference. And ultimately, it became clear to me that it's the sort of local leadership, right. It's the leaders in the middle. It's the middle managers, the branch managers, the unit managers, the people in the middle who are kind of the operational leaders for where the work is happening, whether that work is R and D or care delivery or other forms of execution, and how they show up and how they respond to honesty. It makes all the difference.
Amy Edmondson: And it creates the possibility of teams that can learn from their own experiences versus ones that really, maybe individuals might be learning, but the teams are not learning. And to me, that's a risk factor.
Mark Graban: Yeah. I either shake my head or roll my eyes. Sometimes I hear admonitions for we need a speak up culture, and it's blaming the employee. Whoops, no, I caught you during. Sorry.
Amy Edmondson: No, that's okay.
Mark Graban: But I'm like, maybe we should frame it as a listen up culture. We need.
Amy Edmondson: Absolutely. Obviously both matter, but a speak up culture, you're right. It puts the onus. It sounds like it puts the onus on the employee. And really what we need is a learning culture, a culture that realizes that each and every day we have a lot we can learn from each other, from our clients, from the world.
Amy Edmondson: We're just approaching it like sponges, almost selfishly. What am I missing? I got to ask Mark what he sees, because I'm sure I'm missing something that he sees. And then that is both. Like, I'm now motivated to listen to you when you speak up, and then you will find it as a positive experience and vice versa.
Mark Graban: Yeah. So I also wanted to ask you, Amy, because you write quite a bit, getting beyond talking about types of failures and causes of failures, but how to learn, because it seems not automatic, not as easy as it sounds. What are some of your thoughts, for example, striking the balance between reflecting and ruminating? I've had some guests who've come on and shared part of their mistake story was that they dwelled on it too long instead of being able to reflect in a way that was more focused on learning. What are some tips that you have about that, yes.
Amy Edmondson: And ruminating is such an important and powerful negative force when you find yourself just going around in circles. And the shame deepens and then the loneliness deepens, too. So that's clearly not good. And yet we do want to reflect. We don't want to just blithely move on.
Amy Edmondson: Oh, that's okay. Mistakes happen. I'm just not going to give it any thought. So I think of reflecting as a profoundly cognitive process that we can train ourselves to engage in it. And it starts with the simple question, what happened?
Amy Edmondson: Our brains are leaping to who did it? And am I at fault? And am I bad? Clear that deck. Just pause, throw those thoughts out the window, and start with the question, what happened?
Amy Edmondson: As if you were a filmmaker just watching the scene unfold. And part of what happened will include things you did that contributed to the outcome, the failure, and maybe some things you didn't do that you could have done, whatever, but you'll just, in a clean, clear, rational way, take a look what happened, and then what's in it for me? What are the things I can take away from that, that maybe are a watch out for me going forward? Maybe it's just idiosyncratic. That kind of thing isn't likely to recur.
Amy Edmondson: But more often than not, there's at least something that, with that simple question, what happened? You can take away. I like the self discipline that I learned from a mentor of mine, Larry Wilson, of stop, challenge, choose. And stop is just pause, breathe, and then challenge your automatic, spontaneous thinking, which is usually overly, you know, blaming yourself or others. Just challenge it and say, is that the only way to think about this situation?
Amy Edmondson: And then choose the healthy response. The healthy response is a forward looking, what can I do better? How can I make it up to someone? All of the things, like, think about the future in as productive a way as you can, versus getting caught and stuck in the past that you can't change.
Mark Graban: Yeah. And I think the oyster sauce story that you started with illustrates those points, isn't it? Of stop, don't get upset. Challenge the idea, well, this is ruined. This is garbage.
Mark Graban: And they found, oh, it's not garbage.
Amy Edmondson: It turns out it's delicious.
Mark Graban: A delicious, positive path forward. Well, Amy, I also want to ask. I like asking authors this question. I think you, especially when you think about inevitable mistakes in the book writing or editing or proofreading or publishing process, what are your thoughts or experiences as an author?
Amy Edmondson: Well, first of all, there will be mistakes. Even after all that reading, copy editing, checking, it turns out a couple will slip through. I found one. There's probably more, but I found one the other day in chapter two. There is a place, and I can't believe I missed this.
Amy Edmondson: I must have read this chapter 100 times. There is one place where I say I use DNA instead of RNA and it's an error. Married to a scientist, I should know better, but I made that mistake. So there's those little mistakes that sneak through and end up in the bound copy, which is a shame. But then there's the mistakes that are in the draft every single day.
Amy Edmondson: Every single day that I open up the manuscript again to get to work. I see not mistakes that are just like errors, but just like bad writing or not clear or not simple. The beauty of writing, the pain of writing, but also the beauty of writing is you can keep at it. It doesn't cost anything to throw it out, throw out the bad sentence or spend the time to clean up the bad sentence and make it better.
Mark Graban: YeAh, I think it seems true. Every book published has mistakes slip through. It's human error. Even with trained, skilled.
Amy Edmondson: Yeah, and other people reading it, too.
Mark Graban: Fatigue and other factors, or our brain thinks it saw something that confirmation bias.
Amy Edmondson: It's especially hard to fix your own. I mean, to see your own errors in your writing because you know what it's supposed to.
Mark Graban: I know you might get a kick out of this because I know you've studied Toyota and you've written about them in the book. Jeff Liker's book, the Toyota Way, had a typo on page one of that book, which I'm not blaming him for. I don't.
Amy Edmondson: No, no. I have that book somewhere around here. But that's so great.
Mark Graban: And the same has happened with me. When I sat and did the audiobook reading, I think I found as we were going through either ISaw or the audio engineer, I think there was about, on average, one per chapter, and it was little things like just using the number three to refer to a chapter instead of spelling out the word. Like, there was one place stylistic change slipped through. Those are things I would sort of call typos. Now, I will admit, I believe you when you say others like us more when we admit failures.
Mark Graban: So actually, as it turns out, related to you, Amy, I think the only factual error that I made in the book was attributing the Google research on psychological safety to you when it was more based upon your correct correct.
Amy Edmondson: I woke up like other people and read about the project Aristotle in the New York Times Magazine, and I was astonished and of course, happy right now.
Mark Graban: I was happy that a sharp eyed reader pointed it out. And I'm working in more of a print on demand world. So, yes. I don't know. There's these early copies.
Mark Graban: There's only a handful of. The risk of that mistake isn't as big. I'm still a little embarrassed by it.
Amy Edmondson: No, but you're just giving me credit I don't deserve. There's no problem with that. No, actually. But I don't know why. That's sort of the just in time and the iterative in right kind of wrong I describe.
Amy Edmondson: Instead of a bias for action, it's a bias for iteration. Right. I don't know why publishing isn't more that way. Right. Because readers, again, they're very willing to tell you when they find a mistake and then you can just fix it.
Amy Edmondson: But instead, that RNA DNA mistake I just told you about, they're already doing a fourth printing and it's still there.
Mark Graban: Yeah, well, I hope you won't ruminate about that one. Sorry to bring that up. Not a favorite mistake, but it's okay. We don't like you less because you admitted you make mistakes, Amy. That's thankful that society operates that way.
Mark Graban: So again, our guest today has been Amy Edmondson. Her new book is right kind of wrong. I'm sure others have made the mistake of wanting to put in the. Into the title. It's just right kind of wrong.
Mark Graban: So, last question. Thinking about titles, discussion of like, should the word the be in there?
Amy Edmondson: Yes. Well, here it is. But I thought about it when I first came up with it. It was the right kind of wrong, but it's because of the subtitle, which is the science of failing. Well, and I couldn't bear to have double the.
Amy Edmondson: I don't know if that's just. I think that's just aesthetic. And I thought the the was necessary in the subtitle and not necessary in the so. But I don't think it's a terrible error when people stick it. OK.
Mark Graban: It's better than not referring to the book at all. And a lot of people are talking about it and posting about it. So again, congratulations on the release, Amy. And I'll put links in the show notes, of course, to the website. And I love the COVID Thank you.
Mark Graban: So thank you. I'm really thankful that you could take the time and be a guest here on the podcast today. Thank you very much.
Amy Edmondson: It was a pleasure. Thanks for having me. Sure. Bye.