Byron's Babbles

Flaw-Tolerant Leadership

This morning while feeding in one of our pastures I came across the most beautiful spider web. There was a dew on, which accentuated the detail and geometry of the web. It was so cool I took a picture and have included it in this post. I tweeted that the spider web either had a geometry or leadership lesson in it. Here is the leadership lesson. 

In researching spider webs just now I came across the research of Markus Buehler, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) at MIT. Buehler has analyzed the complex, hierarchical structure of spider silk and its amazing strength. His research shows that on a pound-for-pound basis, it’s stronger than steel. 

Working with CEE graduate students Steven Cranford and Anna Tarakanova, and Nicola Pugno of the Politecnico di Torino in Italy Buehler found that a key component of spider silk that helps make webs robust is something previously considered a weakness: the way it can stretch and soften at first when pulled, and then stiffen again as the force of the pulling increases.
Additionally, these researchers found that spider webs typically only fail or get damaged in small areas. This makes it easy for the spiders to make repairs. If you’ve ever looked closely at a spider web, it still functions even with damage. This what Buehler described in this way: “It’s a very flaw-tolerant system.”

This made me think about leading in a flaw-tolerant way and creating a flaw-tolerant organization. We talk about encouraging taking risks and encouraging failing quickly, but have we made our organizations flaw-tolerant? We need to make sure we are set up like the spider web to have localized failure/damage without it being catastrophic. 

We are beginning to accept the value of failure in the abstract. In other words we have learned, at least that corporate policies, processes, and practices. Conversely, it’s an entirely different matter at the personal level. Everyone hates to fail.

In order to create a flaw-tolerant system, more effective and interdependent upon the decisions made by each departmental leader. We need to be like the spider web and weave our teams together so we can sustain failure or small damage and be able to quickly make local repairs without missing a beat.

Is your organization flaw-tolerant?

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