Learning from failure - a Growth Mindset

Caecilius

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#41
Which would be fine - but it’s the last proper ‘soldier’ training many people have.

It has bewildered me throughout the formal Staff Training that I have had that we don’t talk tactics
A very good point. As soon as you hit staff training it's all "don't worry about the output, just go through the process and get used to how to plan".
 
#42
A very good point. As soon as you hit staff training it's all "don't worry about the output, just go through the process and get used to how to plan".
Yep - a couple of years ago @alfred_the_great linked to a Jim Storr article about NATO HQs - and the fact that they are often process rather than output driven. This is down to staff training - instead of focusing on what a great military plan is - audacity? orchestration of Effects? Etc etc students are taught process. If ou produce a semi unworkable plan it’s fine - as long as your products are good.

My observation is that we have large HQ staffs but at almost every level - and I have worked at Coy, BG, Bde, Div and Corps - the actual plan is produced by one or two SO2s in the middle of the night. Linking back to the topic of this thread - the reason for this is fear of failure. The one or two SO2 produce the plan and everyone else (less Comd) is risk mitigation. I have often seen people remove risk from a plan - I have rarely seen people encourage it.
 
#43
That's one reason why I dislike the term. If you drive, you will appreciate how, in the early stages of learning to drive, it tales a lot of concentration to change gear and you have to look at the gear stick in order to operate it. With practice, you become more adept at changing gear, and every other aspect of driving, to the point that, sometimes you will realise that you can't recall significant portions of a journey, not because you weren't paying enough attention, but because you had allowed the part of your brain that deals with the mundane things (like breathing, which up to this point you were doing without thinking about it, but now that you are aware of it, you are in between taking a couple of deeper breaths) and for a really good example, drive an automatic rather than a manual for a change, and see what happens when, after you've settled in, you have a sudden need to react to something simple like a dynamic situation at a roundabout, and your foot goes to operate the clutch whilst your hand goes to change gear, because you no longer have the same need to consciously concentrate on gear changes and the subconscious part of your brain automatically takes control, allowing you to concentrate on more important things.

So, to answer your question, it's reps.
As was explained to a young mush_dad a long time ago, it's classified as 4 stages of competence to be adept at anything,.

Stage 1 : Unconsciously incompetent - I.e. we have no idea how crap we are at changing gear whilst driving (because we haven't done it yet)
Stage 2 : Consciously incompetent - I.e. we've tried it and it's hard and we have to concentrate at it to get it right without crashing the gears
Stage 3 : Consciously competent - I.e. we're now getting it right, smooth gear changes, but we're still thinking about it
Stage 4 : Unconsciously competent - I.e. we do it right without even thinking about it or even noticing that we've done it.

However the ex mrs_mush went from stage 1 to stage 2 then back to stage 1 without ever progressing any further, no matter how many years of driving.
 
#44
Which is fine. But why are we limiting ourselves to subsequently behaving like everyone has just learned a skill and never aspiring to get past that basic level of competence?


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We have this annoying habit of promoting people, or appointing them to new jobs, every few years. They might have seen their new role being carried out before, but never practiced it, or they may have carried out that role previously but are out of practice. Either way, we have a team that is continually changing, and have a continual need to practice the basics. We can progress past that, but sooner or later we will lose enough core competence that it's back to the Noddy stuff for everyone.
 
#45
We have this annoying habit of promoting people, or appointing them to new jobs, every few years. They might have seen their new role being carried out before, but never practiced it, or they may have carried out that role previously but are out of practice. Either way, we have a team that is continually changing, and have a continual need to practice the basics. We can progress past that, but sooner or later we will lose enough core competence that it's back to the Noddy stuff for everyone.
So the promotion ecosystem outtrumps operational effectiveness and capability.

Here we have the single biggest failing in the UK Armed Forces.
 
#46
So the promotion ecosystem outtrumps operational effectiveness and capability.

Here we have the single biggest failing in the UK Armed Forces.
Eventually, we're all going to leave, so eventually all our replacements will need to be trained, and if we leave it too long, we will have forgotten how to train them.
 
#47
I think atg was not disputing that - he was (I think) pointing out there is a difference between teaching weapon handling and field craft to recruits, and tactical exercises as company/battalion level. One hopes OC/CO types have learnt the basics.
 
#48
I think atg was not disputing that - he was (I think) pointing out there is a difference between teaching weapon handling and field craft to recruits, and tactical exercises as company/battalion level. One hopes OC/CO types have learnt the basics.
There's "basics", and there's "basics".
 
#49
The Royal Navy recognises the need for innovation and has something called DARE - Discovery, Assessment, and Rapid Exploitation.

Interestingly they are engaging with the public via Twitter:

DARE (@RN_DARE) | Twitter

Do the other Services have an equivalent?
 
#50
A very good point. As soon as you hit staff training it's all "don't worry about the output, just go through the process and get used to how to plan".
I wonder how much of that lies in the intrinsic risk orientation of the decision making cadre.

I remember doing a behavioural assessment test on a resettlement course which places you on a scale from Procedures to Opportunity orientation. As the Procedures end you have people who are driven by getting the procedure right; librarians, accountants etc etc. At the Opportunity end you have entrepreneurs; risk takers who seize opportunities with little fear of failure.

I did the test in a group of about 40 retiring senior officers - Lt Col to 1*. The vast majority sat on the procedures side of the mid-point; not excessively so but noticeably so. There were very few of us towards the extremes.

Made me wonder whether the core of decision makers are intrinsically Procedures orientated. Those who are Options orientated go early into business leaving behind a predominately Procedures orientated cadre.

Just a hypothesis based on my own observations.....and seeing the jobs that my contemporaries left to do. Lots of bursars, charity execs and very few self starters.
 
#51
I wonder how much of that lies in the intrinsic risk orientation of the decision making cadre.

I remember doing a behavioural assessment test on a resettlement course which places you on a scale from Procedures to Opportunity orientation. As the Procedures end you have people who are driven by getting the procedure right; librarians, accountants etc etc. At the Opportunity end you have entrepreneurs; risk takers who seize opportunities with little fear of failure.

I did the test in a group of about 40 retiring senior officers - Lt Col to 1*. The vast majority sat on the procedures side of the mid-point; not excessively so but noticeably so. There were very few of us towards the extremes.

Made me wonder whether the core of decision makers are intrinsically Procedures orientated. Those who are Options orientated go early into business leaving behind a predominately Procedures orientated cadre.

Just a hypothesis based on my own observations.....and seeing the jobs that my contemporaries left to do. Lots of bursars, charity execs and very few self starters.
My only thought is that because process is available for cover, it is typically used as an excuse for those unable or unwilling to make a decision. And I get the feeling that are far too many Officers who view themselves as disempowered - all the way upto 2*, and probably up to 4*. Indeed, I've had a 2* who told me he felt he had the most power as a Lt Cdr RN....
 

Caecilius

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#52
Made me wonder whether the core of decision makers are intrinsically Procedures orientated. Those who are Options orientated go early into business leaving behind a predominately Procedures orientated cadre.
Intuitively I would think this likely. I think this also probably creates a positive feedback loop of sorts, where you have an increasingly process driven organion that therefore weeds out those who can't handle or don't enjoy process. The process-orientated people who remain make the organisation even more process driven, exacerbating the effect of driving out the options-focussed blokes. Repeat ad infinitum until the organisation becomes so broken that an optuons-driven visionary is called in to pull it apart.
 
#53
Also, define failure.

Say, for instance, a local authority, acting as a national pilot, installs a new road traffic management system which proves less than adequate. It’s a pilot, a test, and you’ve proved it doesn’t work.

From an engineering perspective, that’s a valid outcome. However, the headline is ‘Government wastes £2m on failed traffic scheme’. It was in fact anything but.

The solution would be better news management. Not lying or spin but a measured and reasonable response. Too often, however, the media ‘response’ is to just take a kicking.
Give a kicking, surely.

But you're right, the trouble, in this kind of situation is "make us look good", "save face", or "find scapegoats", is the response, not "explain why this worked, we spent x testing the water, and not y rolling out something not up to the job, costing z in the long term".

I saw risk aversion taking over when I worked in local government (at a low level, but as a political activist). It's going to be much worse now, given years of austerity.
 
#54
One should never set out to fail - rather we have to accept that failure is a risk. If we accept the adage that 'no plan survives contact with reality' then we can view it in terms of input, process, output, and feedback. The feedback is due to the unknowns in a dynamic situation, and gives you the ability to adapt. That might be adapting tactics, or it might be time to UOR things.

Over a number of years a number of threads have expressed concern that we are too process driven. Feedback suffers from a strange paradox:

a: The rarer message is, the more information it contains (stronger resistance than expected, terrain more difficult that predicted, enemy capabilities still working, product not selling, project not progressing....)

b. The further something is from expectations, including emotional ones, the less likely it is to be listened to. Press on!

Normal process of design or planning get you 90% of the way there. As one of my lecturers said - it gets you into the room with the dartboard. However, the last 10% is where victory, defeat, market success, etc lie. So you need to make intelligent guesses, try, and reassess.

Pareto analysis (the 80/20 rule) should help illustrate which are the most valuable activities for adding value, capturing the attention of an audience, reducing vulnerability, and so on. The Deming PCDA cycle provides a means of being prevented from doing anything really dumb.
You underestimate the capability of stupidity in action.
 
#56
I saw risk aversion taking over when I worked in local government (at a low level, but as a political activist). It's going to be much worse now, given years of austerity.
Has local government ever been anything but risk averse? Do we want bodies that spend taxpayers money to have risk appetite?

For organisations to have an appetite for risk, there has to be a reward side. In business profit is the reward for risk taking and it benefits the owners. In the public sector there is no similar reward; there’s no intrinsic corporate driver to accept risK.

Individuals risk appetite is different because, unless you are a business owner, you are acting as an agent of the owners or, in the case of the public sector, of taxpayers. There is an individual driver to take risk with your organisations assets for self reward - Agency Theory in a nutshell.

So do we really want individuals in local government to have an appetite for risk when doing so is likely to be self-serving?
 
#57
Has local government ever been anything but risk averse? Do we want bodies that spend taxpayers money to have risk appetite?

For organisations to have an appetite for risk, there has to be a reward side. In business profit is the reward for risk taking and it benefits the owners. In the public sector there is no similar reward; there’s no intrinsic corporate driver to accept risK.

Individuals risk appetite is different because, unless you are a business owner, you are acting as an agent of the owners or, in the case of the public sector, of taxpayers. There is an individual driver to take risk with your organisations assets for self reward - Agency Theory in a nutshell.

So do we really want individuals in local government to have an appetite for risk when doing so is likely to be self-serving?
You'd be surprised how much land and streetscape councils own.

There's always an opportunity to make money for councils, and many departments are run along semi-autonomous business lines to help balance the budget, offsetting the costs of others that can only ever exist as money pits.
 
#58
There's always an opportunity to make money for councils, and many departments are run along semi-autonomous business lines to help balance the budget, offsetting the costs of others that can only ever exist as money pits.
I’d question whether councils are ever making money. Rather they are charging for services that are financed through taxes or borrowing leveraged by the tax base. It’s isnt creating value

Nor is there any entrepreneurial risk. If a council gets it wrong, they charge simply charge more or cut the service. They can’t go broke.

However businesslike or autonomous a council is, there’s no profit and loss incentive and no market pressure to bear. So you get Agency behaviours - which is why we have so many council execs (and those of pretty much all other autonomous public body) earning big salaries however badly they perform.
 
#59
Can you explain what you mean by 'agency behaviours'? I think you are making the point that there is no source of negative feedback for a council, unlike a business which can try to analyse why it is losing customers?
 

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