Monday, December 8, 2014

Failure Porn

"I recoil when the merits of failure are so vastly overstated and its agonies so trivialized...'Failure' as fast fashion, peddled by wildly successful people, packaged for mass consumption, that is no more reflective of real failure than commercially produced pornography is of real sex." Geof Lewis, "Failure Porn: There's too much celebration of failure and too little fear." Washington Post, December 4, 2014. Lewis makes several key points. Much 'failure celebration" is done by those who haven't carried the consequences of failure or even, for that matter, failed -- their stories are about "pivots" and rebounds that ultimately produce successes. In the nonprofit world, failure celebrators frequently celebrate the failures of others, sometimes their own grantees but rarely themselves. Or failure celebration is about the misty past, not about the gut-wrenching present. As Lewis argues, "The investor class is complicit in the rise of failure porn." In another bit of failure bashing Lewis states: "Empirically, it's not clear that an entrepreneur can learn anything from failure. Even the most successful start-ups have multiple problems...at any given time. Any of these issues alone or combined, could lead to failure." In other words, all entrepreneurial ventures are complex and identifying single failure explanations may be impossible. But it may be possible to identify the most significant contributing mistakes -- I hope so. The point of thinking about failure in my mind is to avoid it when possible, not to celebrate what could have been prevented. Lewis concludes: "The failure pendulum has swung too far toward celebration. I'd like to see it swing back a bit toward fear."

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