The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits is hosting their 2015 Nonprofit Communicators Workshop Series and it is focused on a great topic: Risk, Innovation, and the Role of Failure! The event is being held on October 20th, 2015 from 9:00 am – 11:00 am at the Wilder Center in St. Paul. Join us!
I have been following the story of Elon Musk for several years now. His attitude toward innovation, risk taking and the possibility of failure is what I consider to be an “example of good.” This attitude has earned him a handsome fortune (worth $12b as of 2014) and a top spot in my “must interview” list for my book. In my previous world of new business development, my team and I had followed Musk’s company Tesla Motors closely as we were working on opportunities in the electric vehicle industry. At the time Musk had just begun general production of the Tesla Roadster and while it had won an award from Time Magazine as one of the best inventions of 2006 it was far from certain that the company could survive.
The truth is that nonprofits experience failure just like every for-profit business: new initiatives fall short of expectations, the synergy of partnerships fails to materialize, or expansion plans overburden an organization’s cash flow. But because nonprofits are so reliant on donations and grants to fund their operations even mentioning the word failure can be lethal. The perception, and perhaps reality, is that no donor wants to think that their contribution is being wasted and no foundation wants to report back to their board on “failed” investments. The result is that “safer is better” and failures are frequently covered up.
Last week I did a story about Dun & Bradstreet CEO Jeff Stibel (@Stibel) on how he had created a Failure Wall at his company in an attempt to build a tolerance for risk-taking and failure within the organization’s culture (Post Here). I was just able to watch a similar interview that the Huffington Post had done a week prior with Jeff and three other guests. I found the discussion with the other guests absolutely bizarre but worth addressing. On one hand they were all praising Jeff for his ability to create a culture that has learned to tolerate failure without being fired. But on the other hand they all expressed deep concern over what would happen if someone took a picture of someone’s failure from the wall and shared it on social media. This is exactly the fear bordering on paranoia that Jeff is trying to address with his Failure Wall.
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