How to create business impact through failure?

There are four fundamental issues facing HRD:

  1. Culture and engagement
  2. Leadership capability
  3. Learning and development
  4. Re-inventing HRD.

Source: Deloitte

These are serious gaps in the HRD business model, but they are also point to a great opportunity for HRD to step up to the plate and deliver some ground shaking changes that will revitalize and transform the principles of training. With this challenge in mind we coined the term Disruptive Learning to describe our key design principle. That is, we upset the traditional business training pedagogical principles underlying HRD programs by focusing on creating “positive error” rather than error as “measure of failure”.

The Art of Failure

We are taught that failure is to be avoided at all costs, but as video games show us, this is not always true:

The learning experience built into great games can be described as “the art of failure”, that is, people learn new skills in solving complex problems by learning, failing, relearning, failing and re learning.

In fact, a whole genre of video games, usually referred to as “die and retry” is built around the idea that you must fail at a task once before you can understand and conquer it.

[Image: Dark Souls 2]
The Dark Souls video game franchise is based on trial and error. The game will even tell you the number of times players have failed worldwide.
This cycle of learning and unlearning will often develop the gamers’ skills in leadership, collaboration and communication in such a way that they are immediately viable and available to complete and excel at the game’s challenges.


Far from the media driven stereotype, hardcore gaming is not a key-bashing teenager’s hobby which creates antisocial behavior. It is, at its highest level, now recognized as a highly skilled team based worldwide competitive sport across a whole range of strategy and multiplayer high level games. It is from this world of e-sport and hardcore gaming that HRD learning and development, and talent management can use the “art of failing” as a key design principle to create games and business scenarios that deliver real and tangible results.

And we can dispense with a major objection that you need to have been born holding a controller to play games: not so. The average age of our clients playing the Heist and Conquest and other simulations has got be around 40-50 years old with some people never having played before. But with our train the trainer program and our coaching practice these players became our greatest champions, selling their learning experiences to their colleagues and friends. Just ask to see our videos and pictures. They tell their own story.

Forward Error

Making errors, making mistakes is a positive state and moves the learner forward, rather than backwards, in the learning process. In fact “forward error”, learning and unlearning, creates new skills which are immediately available to the business upon finishing the training programs:

When you or the team fail to communicate or collaborate effectively you have to go back again and again until you develop the competence high enough to work for you and the team. Then these skills created during the scenario are transferable to the business. When you fail, when the team fails, you have to re-evaluate why and how, and have a go again and again until you succeed.

In many training sessions we have had multiple participants fail to solve key problems. They had to work at and sweat it. Eventually solving this scenario allowed the teams to work across a wide range of competencies, display advanced communication and collaboration skills and also dig into their reserves and find the grit and character to continue and persevere at achieving the scenario: a paradoxically hard challenge resulted in fun and a real sense of accomplishment. This is disruptive learning.