Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Schooling Failure

"Perhaps foundation staff members don't know how to fail."

Larry Blumenthal, "A Helpful Guide to Failure in Philanthropy. Use Carefully."

I like this question -- a sort of Zen Koan to ponder. Foundations certainly fail at things. Some share their failures -- although they prefer talking about the failures of other foundations.

I think the point is that if you resist failure and put up all sorts of obstacles, you are more likely to fail badly.

So, how does one fail well. Larry offers some good ideas:

"Fail small,fail publicly, fail to win (learn from mistakes), fail proudly."

Failing small leads to adopting investment approaches like prototyping, in which you test key assumptions in small ways before the big roll out. This is easier said than done. We have a program design gene or bias that quickly transforms prototypes into multi-year commitments.

I like this notion: "Think big (that's important),but embrace microfailure."

As we all get better at failure, we should not underestimate the corrosive influence of our success culture. It's always getting in the way.

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