It's OK to FAIL: How can we celebrate failure...

It's OK to FAIL: How can we celebrate failure as part of innovation?

Claire Nelson
on May 11, 2012

Woody Allen once said, "If you're not failing now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative." So when it comes to urban innovation, how do we turn failure into a badge of honor rather than a mark of shame? How can we create an environment where people aren't afraid of trying new things?

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What do you think?

Anonymous
on 2014-09-01T20:59:06+00:00
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Mark S
on Feb 01, 2013
"I recently came across this Henry Ford quote at Tech Shop in Allen Park: Failure is simply the..."
perry wyatt
on Jun 15, 2012
"I think Marianne Williamson said it best that our deepest fear is not that we are indequate, but..."
Ashley Aniton
on Jun 15, 2012
" I believe that beginning at a very young age we are taught that failure is a bad thing. We are..."
Brandon Helderop
on Jun 06, 2012
"Jay, We really appreciate you linking Fail Detroit into this conversation. I was reading the..."
Jay Rayford
on Jun 06, 2012
"Hey! Check this site out!! "
Claire Nelson
on May 25, 2012
"Interesting: We are raising a generation of domesticated kittens, then throwing them out into..."
Claire Nelson
on May 17, 2012
"Thanks, Brad! Very interested in whether we could pull this off for our next UIX forum...or a..."
Claire Nelson
on May 17, 2012
"Delphia, thank you so much for sharing this passage. It really resonates at this moment in my..."
Claire Nelson
on May 17, 2012
"YES to FailFare. Shall this be the topic of our next UIX innovation forum? Let's discuss!"
Tunde Wey
on May 17, 2012
"this has been my exact approach in life... it seems i have got it right all along. allow me to..."
Bradford Frost
on May 16, 2012
"It would be a compelling forum to create. Anything to foster dialogue and bring people together..."
Delphia Simmons
on May 15, 2012
"  In preparation for a meeting tomorrow I was reviewing a book on servant leadership by Robert..."
Jay Rayford
on May 14, 2012
"I love this discussion! This right here is a part of the process! Having open discussion about..."
Delphia Simmons
on May 14, 2012
"My good friend Forrest Branch is a Detroit transplant now living in Namibia Africa.  He posted..."
Claire Nelson
on May 14, 2012
"I love the idea of a local #FailFare, Brad! And I also love Ned's idea of an "I Was This Close"..."
Jess Daniel
on May 14, 2012
"I agree with you two about creating a culture where it's okay to fail -- this ethos was drilled..."
Delphia Simmons
on May 14, 2012
"We've all heard about how many times Thomas Edison "failed" in his effort to create the light..."
Achille Bianchi
on May 14, 2012
"Hey all!  This is indeed an interesting topic to be talking about. I recently did some media..."
Bradford Frost
on May 14, 2012
"Hosting a #FailFaire can be an effective way to bring failures to the table and celebrate them by..."
Emily Doerr
on May 14, 2012
"There was a great discussion around the importance of failure at the Detroit Business Conference..."
Claire Nelson
on May 14, 2012
"I've always loved this quote from Howard Zinn (it's posted on my fridge). It helps me think about..."
Claire Nelson
on May 14, 2012
"I like that, Tunde..."Stagnation is failure." Activity is vitality, and we should celebrate that,..."
Tunde Wey
on May 11, 2012
"So i wrote a little article for the huffington post detroit, about failure... well kind of about..."
Claire Nelson
on May 11, 2012
"Interesting: "If students learned from the time they entered elementary school that it's ok to..."

Claire Nelson

Claire Nelson - 2014-09-01T20:59:06+00:00 - "Woody Allen once said, "If you're not failing now and again, it's a sign you're not doing..."

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Mark S
on Feb 01, 2013 - 5:43 pm

I recently came across this Henry Ford quote at Tech Shop in Allen Park:

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.

It really hit home. I wonder if 'failure' is a concept that we use when we see the prospect of beginning again as negative or unappealing. Like many of you have said, if it truly is about the process (and not about just the outcome ) then failure really allows us to stay in the place where we are learning the most!

 
perry wyatt
on Jun 15, 2012 - 12:52 pm

I think Marianne Williamson said it best that our deepest fear is not that we are indequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure.  So many young people are afraid of standing out because of what others will think of them in doing so.  That statement is especially true for young people raised in inner city school systems.  They go with the crowd because going against the crowd can seem over whelming.  Doing something out of the ordinary and being innovative will often subject the youth to ridicule from his peers.  I agree with Claire Nelson, if want to encourage creativity in the youth and get them to try new things and , then we have start while they're young.  I think parents and elementary schools should design their home and school culture in such a way where it is ok to make mistakes.  Where if they fail, they use their failure as a learning tool. 

 
Ashley Aniton
on Jun 15, 2012 - 2:13 am

 I believe that beginning at a very young age we are taught that failure is a bad thing. We are punished for it. This directs us to be afraid to try new things with the leering thought that we may fail, and if we do how that would reflect upon ourselves. I know personally I focus on failure when I approach a situation. I weigh the outcomes and analyze every possible way I could fail. I go over and over situations and scenarios that might happen. A lot of times by doing this it leads me to not take the risks, and I miss out on an opportunities and life’s messages that could have been very beneficial for me all because of my fear of failure because of it’s negative connotation.

As educators and parents you should teach your children and students that failures are another way to learn. Just as we learn from a book, we can learn from life's lessons. We can self educate by learning from what we've done wrong or what others have done. When we try something new we must not go into it with a meek persona, we must go in it with confidence and accepting that yes we may fail, and that's okay, as long as we learn from it and try again. 

With that being said we must create an environment that fosters this type of thinking. We develop social norms, the "do's and don'ts" of society by what we see, hear and feel is acceptable. If we are taught that looking someone in the eye is a well respected social norm then we continue to do so. If we learn that failure is unacceptable then it is something that we try to avoid. In order to encourage our children and students to embrace failure, so that it is allowed to be a learning tool, we must accept it ourselves. We cannot teach philosophy or a way of life without accepting it ourselves. By doing this we can create a safe environment for people to learn and grow freely without judgment. 

I once watched a video about failure and the instructor suggested that when we fail at something, which is inevitable, we say "That's fascinating". Don't dwell on it, don't kick yourself about it. Look at it as fascinating, as something new to learn from. 

 
Jay Rayford
on Jun 06, 2012 - 10:19 am

Hey! Check this site out!! 

 

Responses(1)

Brandon Helderop
on Jun 06, 2012

Jay,

We really appreciate you linking Fail Detroit into this conversation. I was reading the analytics and saw that there had been traffic coming from this site so I decided to check it out. I love this conversation about failure. Failure, although sometimes painful and humiliating, is a necessary part of the process of reaching our goals as long as you learn from it and move forward from it.

Our goal in creating Fail Detroit was to make more good come out of those stories of failure. We want to encourage and empower local Metro Detroiters to go out and not be afraid to make mistakes. If we can foster this type of environment and inspire people to reach new heights, the entire City of Detroit benefits.

Check out the site at FailDetroit.com, follow us on Twitter at @faildetroit and we would love for anybody interested to go on the site and share a personal story of failure. We'll have new posts going up every Tuesday and Friday.

Thanks guys!

Brandon

 
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Claire Nelson
on May 25, 2012 - 10:38 am

Interesting:

We are raising a generation of domesticated kittens, then throwing them out into the Serengeti.  We might feel better about it – but in the long run, they won’t.  

 
Delphia Simmons
on May 15, 2012 - 9:03 pm

 

In preparation for a meeting tomorrow I was reviewing a book on servant leadership by Robert Greenleaf.  This is an excerpt from the book that includes a Camus quote.  I think it provides some though provoking perspective as it relates to our educational system, creating, and the struggle/failure (suffering) that must be accepted as a natural part of it. :

Begin Quote 

By extending education for so many so far in to the adult years, normal participation in society is effectively denied when young people are ready for it.  With education that is preponderantly abstract and analytical it is no wonder that there is a preoccupation with criticism and that not much thought is given to “what can I do about it?”.

     Criticism has its place, but as a total preoccupation it is sterile.  In a time of crisis, like the leadership crisis we are now in, if too many potential builders are taken in by complete absorption with dissecting the wrong and by a zeal for instant perfection, then the movement so many of us want to see will be set back.  The danger, perhaps, is to hear the analyst too much and the artist too little. 

     Albert Camus stands apart from other great artists of his time, in my view, and deserves the title of prophet because of his unrelenting demand that each of us confront the exacting terms of our own existence, and, like Sisyphus, accept our rock and find our happiness in dealing with it. Camus sums up the relevance of his position to our concern for the servant as leader in the last paragraph of his last published lecture, entitled “Create Dangerously”:

 

One may long, as I do, for a gentler flame, a respite, a pause for musing.  But perhaps there is no other peace for the artist than what he finds in the heat of combat.  “Every wall is a door,” Emerson correctly said.  Let us not look for the door, and the way out, anywhere but in the wall against which we are living.  Instead, let us seek the respite where it is—in the very thick of battle.  For in my opinion, and this is where I shall close, it is there.  Great ideas, it has been said, come into the world as gently as doves.  Perhaps, then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear, amid the uproar of empires and nations, a faint flutter of wings, the gentile stirring of life  and hope.  Some will say that this hope lies in a nation, others, in a man.  I believe rather that it is awakened, revived, nourished bu the million of solitary individuals whose deeds and works every day negate frontiers and the crudest implications of history.  As a result, there shines forth fleetingly the ever-threatened truth that each and every man, on the foundations of his own sufferings and joys, builds for them all.

One is asked, then, to accept the human condition, its sufferings and its joys, and to work with its imperfections as the foundation upon which the individual will build wholeness through adventurous creative achievement.

 End Quote

 

Responses(3)

Tunde Wey
on May 17, 2012

this has been my exact approach in life... it seems i have got it right all along. allow me to  pat myself on the back and fis myself a delicious beverage... oh how special i am!

 

 

lol... seriously delphia, that is awesome. it makes me want to go out and get a camus book- but i don't think i will do that... i have too many books yet unread.

 

I will make on quick observation about the camus quote, and failure... the most difficult thing about failure is having the courage to recognize the the lesson as the failure happens. I think even camus alluded to it, when he mentioned longing for a "gentler flame". the best antidote to this is the insight that friends, family, introspection, reading (in general, education) provides... we gotta keep learning folks

 

so... Claire, we need a failfare! so i can talk about how i tried to sell cheesecake to save the world :)

 
Claire Nelson
on May 17, 2012

YES to FailFare. Shall this be the topic of our next UIX innovation forum? Let's discuss!

 
Claire Nelson
on May 17, 2012

Delphia, thank you so much for sharing this passage. It really resonates at this moment in my Detroit experience. I'll have to read Robert Greenleaf's book! Thank you...

 
Expand This Thread
Jay Rayford
on May 14, 2012 - 11:24 pm

I love this discussion! This right here is a part of the process! Having open discussion about failures, how EVERYONE has them and being ok to say hey, that didn't work, but this is what I learned from it. 

Someone spoke about having some form of that process early on in schools. I definitely agree with that! Which is part of the reason I want to do Startup Weekends for high schools. The learning process from that alone teaches you so much that I think would be VERY valuable for high schoolers to learn. How to iterate...which is to fail fast and cheaply. 

The earlier we teach that process, the better. Also the more we acknowledge our failures and each of us celebrates them like kids (and extreme sports folks) show off scars...the less afraid people will be to take a shot at life in a passionate way!

This Michael Jordan quote does it for me:

"I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying."

 
Delphia Simmons
on May 14, 2012 - 9:42 pm

My good friend Forrest Branch is a Detroit transplant now living in Namibia Africa.  He posted this on my FB wall:

"You must fail in order to create an experimental laboratory out of which new directions are born..."

Ahh...so true :-)

 

 
Claire Nelson
on May 14, 2012 - 9:12 pm

I love the idea of a local #FailFare, Brad! And I also love Ned's idea of an "I Was This Close" Award for the most spectacular failure. Perhaps we could make this a special UIX innovation forum? Would you get up on stage and share your story about something that didn't work out how you hoped, and what you learned?

"There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure." -Colin Powell

 

Responses(2)

Bradford Frost
on May 16, 2012

It would be a compelling forum to create. Anything to foster dialogue and bring people together around the concepts can make the process fun and worthwhile. I'd be happy to contribute.

 
Claire Nelson
on May 17, 2012

Thanks, Brad! Very interested in whether we could pull this off for our next UIX forum...or a future one later this year. Would LOVE your help!

 

 
Expand This Thread
Jess Daniel
on May 14, 2012 - 5:12 pm

I agree with you two about creating a culture where it's okay to fail -- this ethos was drilled into me early in my professional life working in the tech industry. I'm sure you've heard the mantra: "fail early, fail often." It's why good angel investors invest in PEOPLE not in IDEAS. 

I think for me, failure's intimately tied to two of the things I value most: humility and constant learning.

When we fail (and recognize our mistakes as such), we realize that not we're not Gods, we can't predict or control everything (bad OR good, as Claire pointed out above), but we can strive to pay attention to what we want and whether what we're doing is actually getting us there... if sometime we're doing doesn't serve us, if we're failing, we try something else. If we pretend we never fail or we're afraid to, we'll never innovate, never improve. Einstein supposedly said "Insanity is trying the same thing again and again and expecting different results" -- but sometimes trying something different requires messing up.

On the other hand, if we try things willy-nilly and we don't learn when we fail, though, there isn't a whole of point to it. There are plenty of examples that we might call failures of society (some really big ones) that we haven't really learned from. There are plenty of instances where we try to build things from scratch when we could have learned a whole lot from someone who has done something similar before. I'm not sure that type of failure is noble or useful.

How can we harness failure to learn from our mistakes and do better? I think the non-profit/foundation world has a whole lot to contribute here. How do we build a system that doesn't just reward success, but successful iteration, learning, capacity to change, resilience? Getting rid of "stagnation" as Tunde puts it... but not just no stagnation for the sake of movement but for the sake of betterment. When it comes to social enterprise, SO OFTEN we only talk about what's working while covering up the things that haven't worked or the parts of an existing enterprise that are particularly challenging, troubling... One of the things I really admire about the Roberts Enterprise Development Fund is the work they've done to document some of the enterprises that just haven't worked out, and how dedicated they've been to working with many of their grantees through problems, not just giving up after one grant cycle...

I also want to mention that we can't ignore the size of risk & resources involved in an operation. Failure is more tolerable in a fundraising experiment for a small community project, but maybe less tolerable when you're building a ship or performing heart surgery. In those cases, you'll want to get all your failures out of the way on LOW-RISK experiments up front before you commit to the real deal. 

I'd also point out that we have a tendency to allow some kinds of people the luxury of "failing" and not others. But more on this some other time...

 
Achille Bianchi
on May 14, 2012 - 2:13 pm

Hey all! 

This is indeed an interesting topic to be talking about. I recently did some media consulting with MTV at their bi-annual MLAB conference a few weeks ago, and their topic for this conference was the Millenial Generation. Part of their findings was that Millenials, or 'Slashers' as they're being called (because we're writers SLASH photographers SLASH entrepreneurs... you get it!) are constantly on the move, and not just talking about what we want to be doing but just doing. This rapid-fire doing inherently has its failures, but rather than seeing them as discouraging and a reason to quit, we tend to look at them from a building-block standpoint. We really don't have the option to be discouraged by our failures - we always must press on. That is surely an optimistic way to look at the world. I think we're doing something right! 

"OK, we failed. Why did we fail? How can we adapt our means and ends to turn those failures into successes? And how do we do so quickly?"

Failure by any means, especially now in 2012, should be considered an assett more than anything. It's cheaper than an education, anyway.

I love this. That's my super quick .02¢! Looking forward to talking more about this.

 
Bradford Frost
on May 14, 2012 - 2:08 pm

Hosting a #FailFaire can be an effective way to bring failures to the table and celebrate them by learning what inspired the activity, what worked and why, and, ultimately how a project or idea failed.

I presented at a #FailFaire in NYC in 2010 on a project I started called MobileImpact.org related to leveraging the glut of used cell phones in the US to support international development efforts.

Presenting was a great experience and allowed me to effectively close the project by transfering knowledge.  Although we succeeded in one project, the model I developed just couldn't handle the logistics and challenges of linking used cell-phones to underserved markets.

Check out this link from the World Bank on how to run a FailFaire: http://blogs.worldbank.org/edutech/failfaire-internal

This could be a great tool to get learning, reflection and failures more effectively on the table and into a constructive dialogue in the city.

 
Emily Doerr
on May 14, 2012 - 12:17 pm

There was a great discussion around the importance of failure at the Detroit Business Conference on April 24th - the collaboration and innovation panel with:

Mark Hatch - Techshop (recently opened a location in Allen Park)

Mike Miller - Google (Ann Arbor office)

Josh Linkner - Detroit Venture Partners

Sam Singh - New Economy Initiative

Christian Marcello - Future Help Designs

 

 
Claire Nelson
on May 14, 2012 - 11:34 am

I've always loved this quote from Howard Zinn (it's posted on my fridge). It helps me think about success and failure, hope and change, and how we ought to define "victory":

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."

-Howard Zinn

 
Tunde Wey
on May 11, 2012 - 5:44 pm

So i wrote a little article for the huffington post detroit, about failure... well kind of about failure. 

The idea is that there is a lot of great work happening on behalf of the city and its residents however, no matter how hard we try our capacity is limited, so there will be disappointment. 

I think the premise of the post was to redefine failure. And maybe this is partially an answer to Ned's post, maybe failure should be less about not acheiving a goal and can better be described as stagnation. Stagnation is failure!

If we are moving back or moving ahead as the result of actions taken in the general direction of progress then this is success.

 

Does this make sense?

 

Anyway to answer Ned's questions... we should ask people "what did you do?"  "what was the intended result?" and "what was the actual result?".

we should treat the actual result as an action independent of any positive or negative values (such as "failure" or "success"). 

 

I feel like i need someone to take this concept from here... i am loosing all the thread that holds it together :)

 

Responses(1)

Claire Nelson
on May 14, 2012

I like that, Tunde..."Stagnation is failure." Activity is vitality, and we should celebrate that, whether the results and successes are immediately visible or may take a bit longer to reveal themselves. I can see ideas and projects manifesting now in Detroit that were seeded years or even decades ago. And if I look further into the future than tomorrow, I can see how new groundwork being laid today could make new things possible down the road. Sometimes it requires a bit of faith and patience.

 

 
Expand This Thread
Claire Nelson
on May 11, 2012 - 5:20 pm

Interesting: "If students learned from the time they entered elementary school that it's ok to make mistakes and take what works and build off of that and continue to be curious...they'd never lose their imagination."

 
Claire Nelson
on May 11, 2012 - 4:46 pm
 

Responses(1)

Delphia Simmons
on May 14, 2012

We've all heard about how many times Thomas Edison "failed" in his effort to create the light bulb--not to mention his hundreds of other "failed" inventions.  If history has taught us anything it is that great people fail. Period. I totally agree with what I'm reading in the posts and it looks like we're trying to get back to something that was a non-issue decades ago.  For sure, the environment of play (creating without negative consequences or heavy expectations) has to be fostered in the home, continued in the educational system and embraced in the marketplace.  

In looking back at some of the great inventors I don't recall an investor over their shoulders requiring that the inventions have a valuation or using logarithms to chart when the idea can become an IPO. There were those willing to take a chance whether it was at their own expense or at the expense of family and friends who would help them stay afloat while they created. 

Benefactors may have been more understanding of the process of invention (I don't think innovation/innovator was used to describe it much back then) and therefore willing to ride through the process based more upon their belief in the inventor than in profit margins. I would venture to say that any valuation of the light bulb would have been woefully underrated. 

I guess my point is that at home, at school, at work--we must be intentional about re-creating a culture and environment of creativity. And history may yield some great clues for doing so.

 

 
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