The Catharsis of Naming Failure
How pre-mortems drive inspiration
This month our team went up to the snowy Colorado mountains and spent two full days sitting around a big fireplace talking about all the possible ways our plans for 2020 might fail. It’s a practice called a pre-mortem where, before undertaking a project, a team identifies all the possibilities for failure and corresponding mitigation strategies. As an organization, we’ve done pre-mortems before, but we’ve never spent two full days sitting in a space of anticipating failure, and a few things stood out:
- Our team loved it and declared the retreat one of our most productive yet. People expressed catharsis in being able to publicly name anxieties and fears that often don’t get airtime. There are so many things that aren’t fully spoken but are fully felt. This retreat will become a blueprint for future ones.
- I personally struggled to sit for so long in a space exclusively dedicated to anticipating all the things that could go wrong. I realized how much I need to balance the anticipation of failure with the anticipation of success. I’ve found that the creative release of thinking of our work as art sometimes is greater than the cathartic release of thinking of our work as risk-mitigation. Fortunately, there are people at Uncharted who prefer the opposite, which makes us a good team.
- I am curious if there is a correlation between a team’s ability to sit in a place of anticipated failure and that team’s ability to take risks and more quickly bounce back from failures. Does the naming of failure de-stigmatize it and increase the collective risk-appetite of a group of people? We'll see.