cover image Right Kind of Wrong: The Science of Failing Well

Right Kind of Wrong: The Science of Failing Well

Amy Edmondson. Atria, $28.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-982-19506-9

The idea that “failures are stepping stones on the way to success” is popular wisdom, observes Harvard Business School professor Edmondson (The Fearless Organization) in this enterprising reappraisal of what it means to misfire. But not all failures are created equal. Sifting through social psychology and a quarter century of her own academic research, Edmondson delineates the difference between “intelligent failures,” which “don’t cause unnecessary harm, and generate useful learning that advances our knowledge”; “basic errors,” which include such preventable mishaps as sending an email meant for a friend to a boss; and “complex failures,” which stem from “not one but multiple causes” and can be reduced, though not wholly eradicated, by “catching small problems before they spiral out of control.” Edmondson also delves into the organizational importance of “psychological safety,” or the knowledge that failures won’t be held against the “culprit,” making for better performance and lower burnout rates. Strategies for managing failure include casting off shame in order to learn from mistakes, and practicing “situation awareness” to parse the “failure potential” of given circumstances. Drawing on fascinating examples of individual and public mishaps—hospital errors, aviation mistakes, nuclear accidents, for example—Edmondson sets out a cogent, information-rich study based in clearly explained research and buttressed by an abundance of practical tools. Perfectionists will find this freeing. (Sept.)