Learn from failures: Mr Zee Yoong Kang

Failure is often a taboo word in the public service. In fact, we don’t always hear failure being celebrated or encouraged in the public service. Public servants are often described as safe, stable, and not willing to challenge the status quo.

In an interview with Challenge, Mr Zee Yoong Kang, Chief Executive Officer of the Health Promotion Board believes that we can learn from our past mistakes in order to achieve a better future result. Instead of covering our mistakes up, we ought to honestly examine them and learn from them. One example of an experiment that failed was the One Million Kg Challenge.

“Where you fail, you take the good parts, you move on quickly. So, through that failure, we grew in our expertise,” said Mr Zee. HPB then took the lessons learnt from the failed experiment and applied it to the second season of the National Steps Challenge.

Another example of a mistake was when the HPB’s Falls Prevention Awareness Campaign was mistranslated in Chinese which resulted in the Chinese-speaking community expressing their displeasure. As such, the leadership team wanted to know everything “except for the names of the people involved”.

“The truth comes out when people feel safe to fail. Send the signal that failure is okay, we just want to do better… and the word spreads very fast.”

This willingness to embrace failure is generally a hallmark of the private sector. As such, with the public sector being more willing to embrace failure, I believe it signals that public agencies can experiment, fail fast and learn fast, which hopefully will translate to better policies to the man on the street.

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