‘Always make new mistakes’ Esther Dyson
I was part of a round table discussion on sharing failure. You can see the full discussion here. We left with more questions than answers and I’ve summarized my 3 key take-outs below.
Bravery – we must find a way to be braver about sharing failure in the first place, both with our internal teams and external audiences. But when is the best time? And what is the best way? Do we market them to all audiences as near misses, or half-successes, or are we absolutely blunt and face criticism head on and learn a lesson in resilience?
Ambition and aspiration – our scope for failure is somewhat dependent on our level of our ambition in the first place. Is it better to fall short of an audacious goal or succeed at mediocrity? If we only aim for success we end up in a society that only breeds mediocrity. How do we get better at actually aiming to fail and doing it fast to minimise risk and maximize learning? Developing a different attitude and culture for failure starts with education. Sir Ken Robinson talks about this here.
Being clear on what success looks like – its relatively easy to take a failed project and retrofit success to it; for example ‘the fundraising campaign didn’t raise any money, but it did create lots of awareness’ (sound familiar?) – I’d argue that if the goal was to raise x amount of money and it didn’t – it was a failure. And let’s not get bogged down with the failure bit, but let’s be ruthless in understanding why it failed (without necessarily blaming anyone) so that next time, if you agree there should be a next time, the project has a much higher chance of being a success. And the awareness raising – congratulations because that was an excellent added extra, but let’s be really honest, if a project didn’t achieve it’s objective it failed.
It’s all very well to say we must learn from failure, but the topic of sharing and learning from failure is really difficult because we are programmed to succeed. But as Woody Allen said “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative”
I’d love to know your thoughts and if you can, please be brave and share examples of failure here, or your tactics for sharing and learning in order that we can all achieve more.