There won’t be any floats or parades in San Francisco today but there will be a similarly strong debate on fear, emotion, and failure. Today is the fourth annual FailCon conference being held in San Francisco, California. The goal of the conference is to “Stop being afraid of failure and start embracing it” and it is targeted at Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, investors, developers and designers. The thought is that by talking about our failures and learning from the failures of others we can move beyond our fear of failure toward our path to success. Sound familiar?
I have to admit that I’m pretty excited! My interview with MO.com was published yesterday on my work in launching my writing, blogging, and speaking business with MattHunt.co & FailureForums.com. In the interview I discuss my personal failure story and my subsequent interest in helping organizations understand the importance of planning for and learning from failure.
A friend and former colleague who knows of my interest and passion for better understanding failure had forwarded a link to me a few months back for www.admittingfailure.com. The site is hosted by Ashley Good from the group Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWBC). Ashley launched the site in January 2011 as part of a growing movement in bringing transparency to failures in the international development sphere. The people working in the non-profit sector are not much different to those working in for-profit businesses when it comes to failure. A statement from the site notes that “The development community is failing…to learn from failure. Instead of recognizing these experiences as learning opportunities, we hide them away out of fear and embarrassment.”
How do we learn how to fail? I know this sounds like a ridiculous question, we don’t need to “know” how to fail because it just happens. We start with a plan or idea and it could be any plan really: to get an A on a paper, to get into a certain school, to ask someone out on a date, or to get that next promotion. We then set in motion actions that will get us closer to our plan: studying the class material, preparing an application, finding out a phone number (I have to admit my dating experience might be a “dated”), or delivering a key project for your boss. Eventually you will either succeed or fail in your plan: maybe you ace the test, you get your acceptance letter, she agrees to a first date, or you get that promotion? But maybe you don’t? And if not, then what happens next? What is your fallback plan, your contingency, or your pivot? How do you pick yourself up and move on?
Today Peter Sims wrote about my favorite topic Failure in an article for the HBR Blog titled “The No. 1 Enemy of Creativity: Fear of Failure.” Sims comments on how parents, teachers, and bosses all push us to prevent errors and mitigate risks. He points out how entrepreneurs and designers have a different frame of mind toward failure seeing “mistakes” as part of the trial-and-error processes of driving innovation. Sims calls for each of us to revolt against this thinking and to no longer be “shackled by these norms.”
Last month Inc. magazine ran an article titled “Why Silicon Valley Loves Failure” about how failure has moved beyond a buzzword in the land of Internet startups. The author (Eric Markowitz – @EricMarkowitz) shared the story of mid-’90s entrepreneur Kamran Elahian. Elahian had custom plates for his Ferrari F355 made with the word “Momenta.” Momenta was the name of a company that he founded in back 1989. Great, so what you say? There are thousands of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who drive around with their company’s name on the vanity plates. The interesting point was that Elahian chose the name of his previous company that had already gone bankrupt back in 1992. When ask why he chose his failed company, Elahian responded with “It’s to remind me not to be too proud. Unlike other entrepreneurs who put the names of successful companies on license plates, I decided to put my biggest failure. That way, I have to be reminded of it every time I get in the car.” He had moved beyond accepting his failure to being proud of his failures (see my post on the idea of a having a Failure Resume).
A couple of days ago I heard about another amazing example of a “child” showing us their own power of creativity to drive innovation and I thought about a recent experience playing a game with my son . A child’s ability to create a hypothesis, test, and verify process is no less than an adults and it may be improved since they are not bridled by the fear of failure. This year we have seen a couple of the most astonishing medical inventions come from work of teenagers! How do we continue to create an environment where they are able to discover, explore, and create? If their current pace of innovation continues maybe we will need to start referring to them as the MD-Generation?
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