Failure and the Importance of Lessons Learned

I know this SE Blog went silent for almost a year, but to be fair I was creating a new course based on the INCOSE SE Handbook version 4.0. But I’m back now to once again impart my words of wisdom. Can you handle the TRUTH? Let’s find out.


I want to do a follow-up on a blog post I did back in 2010, called “The Value of Failure” In that article I argued that you should “embrace the failure as a part of the price to be paid towards the road of a positive outcome. It’s OK to fail, just don’t let it stop you from going forward.” A while back I attended the Chesapeake INCOSE Chapter’s Annual SEP Gala. The speaker was giving a list of attributes for a good Systems Engineer. And on the list included standard characteristics such as “Breath across domains” ; “Depth in experience and expertise” ; “Capability of leadership” But there was one criteria that shocked me. It was, “A good Systems Engineer must have at least one failure.” This was surprising considering the fact the INCOSE Definition of Systems Engineering contains the proposition that Systems Engineering will realize a successful system!  The speaker explained that failure is a price of experience and should not be discounted when considering the worth of a Systems Engineer.


A Bloomberg Business Week article, How to Fail -- Mark Pincus explains that “failing is the best way to keep you grounded, curious, and humble.” I encourage you to take some time to read a blog by lenbrzozowski called, “Innovation Tip: Design Your Failure System” which explains how innovation is often a process of failed steps that move a design or product forward. Maybe even into different directions.

As the old saying goes:

  • Avoid Mistakes - they lead to embarrassment
  • Embrace Failures - they lead to knowledge

In another blog post, by Greg Satell, “The Difference between Strategy and Innovation” he explains that “Failure, on the other hand, is an integral part of innovation, which is usually neither coherent nor substantiated, but a dirty, messy business.  After all, if you knew what you were doing, it wouldn’t be innovation, it would be execution.

So embrace failure, it’s OK. Lessons learned will only lead to greater good. The INCOSE SE Handbook vs 4 constantly reinforces the need to capture and document “lessons learned” when a project is wrapping up. Look at Section Acquisition Process Activities under the "Accept the product or service” activity it states:

When an acquisition process cycle concludes, a final review of performance is conducted to extract lessons learned for continued process performance.
— INCOSE SE Handbook

The key is to actually learn from the Lessons Learned.

It’s good to muse about failure and its effect on your character, but don’t let your first failure be the INCOSE SEP Exam. Read about our exclusive offerings to make sure you are successful when you take that all important exam.

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Go ahead. Take that next step in your career. We’re here every step of the way!