Embracing Failure to Create the Future with Snehal Kundalkar
Snehal Kundalkar, Senior Director of Engineering at Reddit, grew up in a world of dualities. On the one hand, she was taught that her place as a woman was between the kitchen and the kids, but on the other hand, she was encouraged to embrace uncertainty to solve complex problems. She was naturally attracted to engineering and she channeled her anger at the injustice of her situation into creativity. She didn’t see herself in the expected role of home provider, so after completing her Bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering, she left her home country to pursue her Masters in the US. She longed to find the adventure she needed in her adopted country.
After a little bit of success, failure feels unwelcome. Don’t let that be you. Embrace it as a natural yin yang of the journey. It takes a lot of patience and grit, but you have to learn to expect and even embrace that some of your efforts will fail. Innovating, building things that have never been built before, is a highly unpredictable situation with loads of unknowns.
What Snehal learned from her time at Apple was to deconstruct your mental models into small manageable items: make small things that are almost as good as the big thing, then combine them together to build momentum. Learn from your failures or successes and keep pushing forward. Failure is good information: it tells you what didn’t work. It’s regrettable that our culture stigmatizes failure as bad instead of focusing on what you learned and how that’s going to help you move forward. Barry points out that in reality, you’ll never be able to predict the future, so you need to test the future: you need to fail as much and as quickly as possible to learn what works and what doesn’t.
Unlearning means recognizing what works in one context may not work in another. That’s why failure is good information, it tells you what doesn’t work —Snehal Kundalkar
Make Decisions Fast.
It’s natural to be scared when making decisions in a high-stakes, uncertain environment, but the trick is to make decisions quickly and stick to them. If your strategy doesn’t work, then make another decision fast. Soon enough you’ll have a successful process. Encourage all members of the team to come up with their best solution within a limited timeframe. Bring them all to the table and choose the best idea/solution..
Unlearning Is Not Forgetting
Barry reminds us that unlearning does not mean forgetting everything you know. Your experience stays with you but you recognize that the behaviors that work in one context may not work in another. This is what Snehal experienced when she transitioned from the Apple ecosystem which she knew, into Reddit whose culture was totally different. At the same time however, she was able to successfully introduce some of the behaviors she learned at Apple.
A leader needs to be flexible when introducing a new culture. You may have big aspirations, but you can’t force culture, you have to be patient. Consider your previous knowledge and experience as tools in your toolbox: you don’t necessarily have to use all of them at the same time, just the ones that work in your present context. This is what learning and unlearning means to Barry: helping people adapt to their particular context and find the right methods to achieve their desired outcomes.
What’s Next for Snehal?
Role models like her 71-year-old father, who recently completed his degree in music, inspire Snehal’s unlearning journey. She says that no one is born great, you continuously develop your skills into greatness. She’s excited about being part of Reddit’s foray into conversation AI, as well as the company’s expansion into new international markets.
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