Failure

I’ve just watched the finale of the Starfield miniature build series from Adam Savage’s Tested channel where Adam’s team took their practical effects model to Orbital Studios for a video shoot with Fonco Studios.

In the video there is a segment where Adam is talking to Fon Davis, the CEO/Creative Director of Fonco Studios, and Adam asks Fon “Do you think this is helping, because you do these shoots all the time … is this helping you with institutional knowledge?” Fon responds explaining that this sort of thing helps him and his company to be able to walk on to a set and know what to do, so they are not experimenting in front of a client. In his own words: “Fail in private. I do a lot of experimentation way ahead of anything I will do for a client… take the time to test and figure some things out and understand the nuance.

This got me thinking about the trend of individuals learning in public contrasted with companies announcing business changes in the aftermath of mistakes.

I don’t know if the learning-in-public trend has died off since I moved away from the centralised social networks in favour of Lemmy and Mastodon, but there was/is a group-think/echo-chamber undertone to the trend that everyone should be learning in public. I remember a post on the bird site (before Melon Husk reduced it to an unknown quantity) that was laden with peer pressure “Even as a senior engineer, you’re still learning, so why aren’t you doing it in public?” to which I replied with something along the lines of “My ego doesn’t need feeding to the point that I crave validation or support from strangers.” which is still true, but I now realise I was missing the point of the whole trend.

Yeah, it isn’t lost on me that I am literally admitting to failure (to understand) and learning from it, in public.

It can be socially beneficial for individuals to learn and fail in public. They can (and should) be openly vulnerable in the moment - it shows their humanity, helps others connect to them, and reminds observers that mistakes and failures are a natural part of growing and learning. Learning in public also helps others avoid the pitfalls you’ve encountered. It also gives credibility and weight to the opinions you express on the subject afterwards - you learned the hard way how to do something right, and your experience is valuable.

Fail in private… do a lot of experimentation… take the time test and figure some things out and understand the nuance… so it is more of a known quantity

Meanwhile companies, especially those that offer on-demand services, are expected to fail in private, despite the benefits and support offered when they publicly admit to the mistakes that were corrected or lessons that were learned after the fact. People generally don’t want to deal with delays as the company they engaged to do a job or provide a service learn how to do it. More than that, they don’t want to pay for the time the company spends learning.

But directly, as explained above, or indirectly by paying the higher fees a company will charge to amortize the cost of learning as the joke below reflects, we will end up paying for the education, learning, training and then the skill and knowledge of the company’s staff.

A repairman was hired to repair a large machine in a factory. He showed up, examined the equipment for less than 2 minutes, then tapped it once with a hammer. It started up. The business owner was delighted, right up to the point he got the $100 bill from the repairman. He thought $6,000 an hour was an outrageous rate and he asked for an explanation and breakdown of bill. So the repairman handed him a new, itemized bill which said:

Tapping machine with hammer: $1

Knowing where to tap: $99

And yet we have a CTO posting to his company ’s blog and LinkedIn with declarations that the company is changing course after learning something new. Why? Look at the posts clearly and you’ll notice that David never states that Hey or 37Signals made a mistake. With 37Signal’s once.com announcement the claim is they are taking advantage of the simpler self-hosting options available to offer the alternatives to SaaS that so many companies want. With the hey.com cloud departure announcement David claims that we (the collective we that includes the reader too) were sold a lie about cloud computing services and were duped in to centralising our services around a few companies running SaaS on even fewer cloud providers. In both posts David goes on to claim that 37Signals will be leading the world into a new way of doing things or at least in a return to the old way things were done before his company encouraged everyone to adopt the current processes.

So in cases like 37Signals and others that have made similar announcementsn(like those.made after a data leak or privacy breach), it is about ego, or more specifically corporate image, and differentiatting their company from the glut of others competing in the same space. It is also about being seen to be fixing the problems with the world, while trying to wash over the fact that their company was a strong proponent of the changes that lead to these problems.