No learning or innovation without failure.
Of course it’s not so simple, as in “That $5 million you gave us, well half of it we spent on things that didn’t quite work out. But here’s what we learned, and here’s what we’ll do next time you give us money…” Now imagine the donor going back to their stakeholders with that message. Ouch. Especially in these days of increased openness and transparency.
What to do? Celebrate failure. Get people used to it. Embed it into our culture. Fail fast and fail forward. (Design thinking gives us some helpful frameworks here.) I’ve been a fan the Fail Faire idea for a long time now. And Facilitating Change supported Fail Faire DC 2011.
What’s Fail Faire DC all about? From their website:
Projects succeed, projects fail. The successes are reported on, the failures are filed away. Or, in the case of most international development and ICT4D projects, pushed under the proverbial rug. Well, its time to bring out the failures, with a sense of humor, and with an honest look at ourselves. Hence was born: Fail Faire.
Fail Faire DC features projects using ICT in international development that have, to put it simply, been a #FAIL. Busted, kaputt. Tongue firmly in cheek, we take a close look at what didn’t work and why the projects failed amidst the ICT4D hype we all are subjected to (and sometimes contributors to).
We believe that failure is no reason to be ashamed. Failure shows leadership, innovation, and risk-taking in pushing the boundaries of what is possible in scaling ideas from pilots to global programs. There is also great value in examining our mistakes as we go beyond the easy and the simple.
Only if we understand what DOESN’T WORK in this field and stop pushing our failures under the rug, can we collectively learn and get better, more effective, and have greater impact as we go forward. So while we encourage irreverence and humor, we will be improving our profession too.