Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Failure Ration

"There are so many reasons why errors may occur that you rarely gain anything by coming unglued when people make a mistake."

Steven R.Covey,First Things First

I found this quote while perusing the business bookshelf in my Club Quarter's cubbyhole in Chicago. I've carried it with me for months, hoping to find the right moment to use it or at least not to lose it.

The current issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review is certainly chock full of interesting articles and other tidbits. In the back of the issue under the big section entitled ACTION are short cases about What Works and What Didn't Work, the latter phrase a less gag-inducing way of talking about mistakes, failures or boondoggles.

The editors should get high praise for even their euphemistic discussion of mistakes. My question now is what should be the right proportion between what works and what didn't work stories. The ratio for the Stanford Social Innovation Review is 3 to 1, the 1 being what didn't work. I'm not sure if this is an empirical regularity,an inspiration,confidence booster or a pedagogical strategy. Think of other ratios like the failure rate of small businesses -- just about the opposite.

We don't have overall data on the incidence of successes and failures in the social innovation world so it's difficult to know what the ratio should be. My sense is that we need to talk about more of the mistakes and failures. We seem to have blooming success everywhere but so little progress.

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