Dilbert - Entrepreneurial Failure


While Tim Kastelle’s ‘Taxonomy of Failure’ pivots mostly around the ‘effects’ (and their escalation impact), Amy C. Edmonson offers a breakdown of failure types based more about the ‘causes’ (both from the context and the individual’s actions) which she outlines in her piece “Strategies for Learning From Failure” in the Harvard Business Review Failure issue

  1. Deviance – An individual chooses to violate a prescribed process or practice (illustrated charmingly by Dilbert above).
  2. Inattention – An individual inadvertently deviates from specifications.
  3. Lack of Ability – An individual doesn’t have the skills, conditions or training to execute a job.
  4. Process Inadequacy – A competent individual adheres to a prescribed but faulty or incomplete process.
  5. Task Challenge – An individual faces a task too difficult to executed reliably every time.
  6. Process Complexity – A process composed of many elements breaks down when it encounters novel interactions.
  7. Uncertainty – A lack of clarity about future events causes people to take seemingly reasonable actions that produce undesired results.
  8. Hypothesis Testing – An experiment conducted to prove that an idea or design will succeed fails.
  9. Exploratory Testing – An experiment conducted to expand knowledge and investigate a possibility leads to an undesired result.


HBR - Failure Semantics