How to Learn from Your Failures the Same Way Google Does


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Leah Thomas
Leah Thomas866
June 14, 2024 at 10:27PM UTC
Failures happen to every person in every career path. According to Google, they're both unavoidable and not all that bad.
"Failures are an inevitable part of innovation," the Google team wrote recently.
Google also believes that failures can be seen as lessons, potentially providing "great data to make products, services, and organizations better." Upon experiencing a failure, Google uses a process they call “postmortems” to describe and learn from the experience.
"We create postmortems for any event we wish to avoid in the future, or if a partner team wishes to document the root cause of a breakdown," the team said.
And Google uses five steps in their postmortem process -- five steps you can learn from and implement in your own life.
1. Identify the most significant failures
"A postmortem is the process our team undertakes to reflect on the learnings from our most significant undesirable events," the Google team wrote. "Incidents happen, but not all require a postmortem. That's why our first step in our process is making sure we define when we need one, by setting up our criteria."
For Google, incidents requiring a postmortem include: "visible service disruptions, data integrity impacts, slow customer resolutions, or failed error detections." Your most significant, undesirable events may vary, but it's important to differentiate between failures and simple errors.
2. Create a record
"Our next step is to work together to create a written record for what happened, why, its impact, how the issue was mitigated or resolved, and what we'll do to prevent the incident from recurring," the team wrote.
Keeping a written record helps prepare Google's team members for future issues that may occur. They also get the opportunity to discuss the failure, investigate the cause, and learn from it. By documenting an incident and the damage control that occured after, you've created a resource you may turn to in the future if necessary.
3. Promote growth, not blame
"For us, it’s not about pointing fingers at any given person or team, but about using what we’ve learned to build resilience and prepare for future issues that may arise along the way," the team wrote. "Removing blame from a postmortem can enable team members to feel greater psychological safety to escalate issues without fear."
Google emphasizes building trust with its employees. Build trust with yourself by remembering that "failures" are inevitable. Do not blame others, and do not blame yourself.
4. Focus on improvement and resilience
"Centering on the importance of improvement and learning can reposition failure as an opportunity for growth and development rather than as a setback," they said.
Viewing failures in a positive way can help boost morale and speed the recovery process along. Remember that by working to resolve this issue, you are also working to prevent future failures.
5. Promote an iterative and collaborative process
"Real-time collaboration and an open commenting system for your postmortems can enable the rapid collection of data, ideas, and solutions," the team wrote. "Regularly recognizing postmortems with your team and with senior management can additionally increase the support and effectiveness of the solutions you develop in response."
Google embodies the classic "practice makes perfect" mantra. The more you work toward healthily resolving failures, the more improvement you will see in your overall performance.
And Google believes their postmortem process can be used by all.
"While our team has used postmortems primarily to understand engineering problems, organizations everywhere — tech and non-tech — can benefit from postmortems as a critical analysis tool after any event, crisis, or launch," they wrote. "We believe a postmortem’s influence extends beyond that of any document and singular team, and into the organization’s culture itself."

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