Jabe Bloom Offers a Sip From a Firehose in “Failing Well”

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

Jabe Bloom (@cyetain) video presentation “Failing Well” is a detailed exploration of some key challenges outlined by Chris Argyris and Donald Schon in “Theory in Practice: Increasing Professional Effectiveness

  1. How can one test theories that prescribe action? How can norms or values be tested?
  2. Given that theories-in-use tend to make themselves true in the world, how can they be tested?
  3. In a situation of action (particularly in a stressful situation), we are required to display a stance of action–that is, confidence, commitment, decisiveness. But in order to test a theory, one must be tentative, experimental, skeptical. How can we, in the same situation manifest the stance of action and the experimental stance.

The third challenge is the key one that entrepreneurs need to manage; what Paul Saffo has called “betting on strong opinions weakly held” and Argyris and Schon describe as follows:

One must regard any theory as tentative, subject to error, and likely to be disconfirmed; one must be suspicious of it. However, one’s theory-in-use is his only basis for action. To be effective, a person must be able to act according to his theory-in-use clearly and decisively, especially under stress. One must treat ‘theory-in-use’ as both a psychological certainty and an intellectual hypothesis.”

There is a lot in here and it’s a synthesis that I suspect Bloom will continue to explore and refine for a while. It’s hard to boil it down to a few conclusions but here are a few things that I took away.

  1. Failing well produces more information than failing poorly. It’s not enough to fail fast.
  2. Failure must be an option: you must be willing to abandon your approach in the face of new information.
  3. Diversity of opinion, both maintaining an open mind about concurrent plausible hypothesis and a willingness to explain your situation, and in particular your failures to others is essential to getting unstuck.
  4. A willingness to look at the facts of a situation (problem or opportunity) as distinct from your opinions and hypotheses, is a requirement for evolving any solution.

It’s an hour long but well worth your time.


Update Aug-24-2012: there is a lot in here,  it’s a  wide ranging exploration of insights from thinkers like:

It’s worth another blog post or two to unpack several of the problem solving methodologies he offers entrepreneurs.

Update Aug-28-2012: in addition to his Jabe Bloom blog, he also blogs at

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