Rose, Thorn, Bud method can turn failures into a bouquet of lessons

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illustration of a rose with a ribbon wrapped around it

When I was in college, I wrote a relationship column for the student newspaper called “Rose and Thorn.” 

(And yes, I named it after that Poison song. *Facepalm*)

We invited love questions from readers, and then I wrote the answers from the sweet and constructive point-of-view of “Rose” … along with the more cynical, devilish take from “Thorn.”

It was a very entertaining exercise in creative writing. I’m also relieved this happened before everything was archived on the internet, because I don’t know if I could take re-reading my advice without blushing to death.

I had conveniently forgotten about this bit from my past until reading about a design-thinking method called Rose, Thorn, Bud. This simple tool was my favorite takeaway from the book, “Start Within: How to Sell Your Idea, Overcome Roadblocks, and Love Your Job,” by Karen Holst and Douglas Ferguson.

As we continue to improvise and manage the daily stresses of the pandemic, some of our creative efforts will be successful. Some will inevitably fail. And like that Rose and Thorn advice column, some of those failures will be embarrassing to talk about. 

The Rose, Thorn, Bud exercise can help turn these “lessons learned” into more reflective, constructive conversations on any project, big or small. 

Visualize the rose at the conclusion of your project, and ask yourself these questions:

Rose is what went well. Everything that bloomed and what you want to brag about: What would you want to keep if you did it again?

Thorn is the what didn’t go well … the prickly parts that you might want to avoid talking about with the team.

Bud is the unrealized opportunities from your project. What could you build on? What can you grow next time? This part seems most relevant for grant proposals that aren’t funded. I don’t consider them failures … we just grow all of the ideas into something else.

I’m going to experiment with this Rose, Thorn, Bud exercise on grant projects … perhaps you may find a use in your realm?

— Stephanie Ogilvie Seagle, September 2020

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About Stephanie

Stephanie SeagleStephanie Ogilvie Seagle has served as Grant Specialist at Virginia Western since 2016, but she prefers her honorary title: “Chief Joy Officer.” Stephanie spent most of her career at The Roanoke Times, a daily newspaper, where she served in various news and features roles including “Shoptimist” shopping columnist. She earned a bachelor’s degree in integrative studies at George Mason University and a master’s of arts in liberal studies at Hollins University. Stephanie is a mom to one human daughter and multiple chihuahuas … and is obsessed with reading nonfiction, Halloween, and crafting glow necklaces inspired by the Mill Mountain Star. Glow Roanoke!