Failure and Cake: A Love Letter to Experimentation

SEPTEMBER 7, 2017

In 3rd grade, I became obsessed with the weather. So much so that my dad gave me a meteorology textbook and encouraged me to read it, make a prediction, and then validate it. Even when I tried to sneak a peek at the newspaper to see if it showed a sun or raindrops, he pushed me to learn and experiment.

Right about now you might be wondering how an amateur weather gal ended up in HR. At some point in my journey, my interests shifted from the weather to people. Specifically, what motivated them, made them tick, made them happy, and so on—all of it fascinated me. I started out teaching, then became a receptionist (a.k.a. therapist), and since 2014 I’ve run Square Root’s HR department. Odd as it might seem, HR is the perfect field to learn about people’s motivation, triggers, and happiness.

Luckily for me, Square Root embraces my fascination with how people interact with their workplace. In fact, our Radicals volunteer to participate in my experiments aimed at bettering our work culture. One of my favorite experiments was our long journey into what type of recognition (if any) motivates our folks. When we found the solution that worked best, we also learned that our team was most motivated by the ability to give others recognition—rather than receiving it themselves. Side perk, it made them happier as well.

There were five versions of that recognition program in one year, which taught me how important the process of training, failing, and learning is. It wasn’t enough to try, I needed a clear problem statement, measurement, the gumption to fail, and the grit to get back up. Most of that had to come from within, which honestly made the process of experimenting a bit lonely.

It wasn’t enough to try, I needed a clear problem statement, measurement, the gumption to fail, and the grit to get back up.

Sticking to my experiment goals was tough, and last year I learned it was tough for others as well. After some discussion with our Engineering team, they confessed their own struggles with experimentation. So together we came up with, Fail, Learn, Cake. It’s our love letter to experimentation. If you can show off an experiment + your learnings (whether you failed / succeeded) we celebrate with cake! And, it’s truly the only time we have cake.

Recently, in my own Fail, Learn, Cake presentation, I shared my recognition story with the team. Radicals who had been with me since the beginning recalled the different versions, but had no idea the thought + effort going on behind the scenes. We just simply didn’t have the platform back then to celebrate those processes. I ended my presentation with this note: Nothing is ever complete and we’re always in learning mode, including Fail, Learn, Cake. What works for us today might not work tomorrow, so we’re constantly measuring, learning, and eating cake over the results!

What works for us today might not work tomorrow, so we’re constantly measuring, learning, and eating cake over the results!

I, for one, am still honing my weather savvy. Just the other day I sent my husband inside for an umbrella. He looked at the sky + his weather app and said, “It’s not going to rain”. A couple of miles down the road, raindrops came tumbling down. I’d like to think my dad is proud that 24 years later I’m still predicting and validating.

At Square Root we’re inspired by our four values: Think Big—Do Bigger, Be Customer Inspired, Partner, and Thrive. Our Fail, Learn, Cake initiative is no exception. It’s a time for us to gather together as a team and share our failures (or successes!), what we’ve learned, and enjoy some cake. The mindset being that by celebrating our experiments it creates a safe space for our team to try out their ideas and fail.

See yourself leading your own Fail, Learn, Cake at Square Root? Check out open roles and send us your stuff now!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

If you ask her, Courtney is the cheerleader of the company; but really, she’s the glue that keeps Square Root together. She handles a little bit of everything but is especially good at HR and employee relations. Prior to joining Square Root, Courtney spent several years in HR operations at really large companies, so she brings welcome structure to our rapidly expanding team. No matter what she’s working on, Courtney adds a creative touch – keeping employee morale high and company events interesting. She knows just what it takes to pull the best out of people and isn’t above the occasional need for coffee / whiskey / cookie bribery. Courtney has a degree in English with minors in philosophy and history from Texas A&M University.