Enjoy Wellness

How To Fail, With Amy Edmondson

Haley Paskalides  |  December 20, 2023

Amy Edmondson shares how we can learn from our small failures — ideally so the big ones don’t happen. (Or at least happen less often!)

“Move fast and break things.” 

That was Mark Zuckerburg’s now-famous early motto for Facebook. Fast forward to today, many budding startup founders have come to live by this idea — that if you’re not getting messy and failing often, you’re not making progress (and you’re definitely not creating the next Facebook). 

Recently though there’s been some backlash to this startup culture mentality, especially in the wake of the 2018 Cambridge Analytica Scandal and the now-infamous FTX scandal. 

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But, what, exactly, is the right way to fail without imploding? How can we encourage creativity and innovation, while at the same time not moving so fast that we harm others and look completely careless? 

Amy C. Edmondson, author of: “Right Kind of Wong: The Science of Failing Well” says the first step is to recognize the difference between the three types of failures: basic, complex, and intelligent. 

  • Basic failures are undesirable results caused by a single error (Example: Putting sugar instead of salt into a recipe). 
  • Complex failures are multi-causal and happen when a handful of factors line up in the wrong way. (Example: You miss your flight because you didn’t leave early enough, you didn’t bring your passport, and you forgot to get gas.)
  • Intelligent failures are an undesired result of a novel foray into new territory and in pursuit of a goal. (Example: Doing your homework on a company or the market and investing in something that loses money over time.)

Edmondson says we should all be seeking out intelligent failures more because “the risk you’re taking is just big enough to get the knowledge you desperately need.” Even though cultural messages tell us that failure is embarrassing, owning up to our mistakes is important because it shows our vulnerability and makes those around us feel closer to us. 


So if we do have a public failure and we’re ready to admit we were wrong, how do we apologize authentically? “A good apology takes accountability – own up to your mistakes, label them, and make amends,” Edmondson says. “And finally, rather than saying it won’t happen again, help someone out who’s been harmed by your actions.”

In Mailbag, we hear from a listener who asks how to politely deal with a parent who insists on buying her gifts for the holidays and from someone who just filed for bankruptcy and is wondering what they should prioritize paying off first. For our money tip of the week, Costco recently started selling gold bars (that’s right real gold bars) and can’t seem to keep them in stock. Should you buy one? 


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All advisory services offered through Financial Engines Advisors L.L.C. (FEA), a federally registered investment advisor. Results are not guaranteed. AM1969416

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