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Admitting Failure

What can we learn by sharing stories of failure? The Admitting Failure website collects & shares stories to leverage learning in the social development sector.

Photo of Meena Kadri
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Admitting Failure helps folks in the social development sector fail forward by:

1. Operating in a safe environment for testing risky innovative ideas

2. Recognizing failures early

3. Admitting failures open and honestly

4. Learning from these failures

5. Adapting actions in order to improve upon risky innovative ideas

They're keen to prevent scenarios like this: "Somewhere in Tanzania, a sanitation program proves ineffective. That result isn’t shared, because it may upset a donor. As a result, the same program is implemented two years later in rural Ghana. Then again in Mali. Failures are repeated because we hide them." ... "The development community is failing…to learn from failure. Instead of recognizing these experiences as learning opportunities, we hide them away out of fear and embarrassment."

Admitting Failure provides opportunities for viewers to browse, submit and discuss stories of failure. How might we provide opportunities for web start-ups to learn from each others failures? How might we foster a safe environment for testing risky innovative ideas & sharing learnings?

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Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Right on! There are so many cases of failure (and success) among startups and their founders. If only new entrepreneurs could tap into this wealth of information! Definitely an important mission that Admitting Failure has undertaken.

A couple things. First, is there any reason not to share successes as well as failures? If we only focus on failure, and all of the different ways we can fail, it seems we may always find some reason NOT to pursue our passion and play it safe. There are plenty of lessons from failure that if you look at another example, with similar conditions, another company succeeded. The key lies in understanding which conditions and decisions were different between the two.

Second, it's important that entrepreneurs are able to get relevant information efficiently. This could be tricky. There are so many examples out there, it's difficult to know which lessons apply to whom. Sure, there's some industry-specific filters you could apply, but I bet sometimes the most valuable and relevant information for a given innovator will come from a totally unrelated startup. I guess one option would be to filter ideas based on stage of development. In fact maybe it's better to divide one entrepreneur's story into lots of bite-sized parts that apply to specific situations, so an entrepreneur doesn't have to read articles 90% irrelevant to their situation to find the 10% that's relevant. Plus, if they see the 10% first, they will be more likely to care about the other 90%.

Efficient transfer of experience and advice is one of several things we're trying to do with Zaplings. We really want to be a facilitator that connects people in fun, relevant ways to each other and to valuable resources. Admitting Failure seems set to become one of these valuable resources, and a partnership between us could be extremely valuable. We would help people discover Admitting Failure, and Admitting Failure could help our producers' ideas blossom.

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Photo of Arjan Tupan

Yes! Very important. Failure is an opportunity to learn. Maybe the best there is.

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Photo of Kelsey Ruger

Great inspiration. I wonder if it would be helpful to categorize the failures (as in this article http://goo.gl/6SJfw) to encourage entrepreneurs to actively seek out good failures. According to the article that would include:

Version failure
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Small failures that lead to incremental but meaningful improvements over time. Examples: Linux operating system; evolution.

Predicted failure
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Failure as an essential part of a process that allows you to see what it is you really need to do more clearly because of the shortcomings. Example: the prototype -- only by creating imperfect early versions of it can you learn what?s necessary to refine it.

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Photo of Meena Kadri

Great build, Kelsey.

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Photo of Kelsey Ruger

Another thought I had was that cataloging and helping people use failure properly helps dispel the myth of the epiphany. I am always telling people that good ideas never stand alone. They are a combination of previous experiences good and bad that have been combined in some new novel way. I think if we allow people to really unravel the history (including the failures) of companies that are admired, there is a lot to be learned from the realization that there is rarely a magical moment, just lots of hard work. Of course the best thing a budding entrepreneur can do is just go to work, but it would be good to be able to ask "How has this failed"

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Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

I like this. The group MobileActive organizes what they call FailFaire, where mobile and ICT developers (in social development sector) get together to share ideas. MA typically publishes a summary of the discussion, which is very useful. More info http://mobileactive.org/tagging/failfaire

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Photo of Meena Kadri

Wow – that's great, Graham. I'ma fan of MobileActive so it's fab to find out that they take this approach of seeing failure as an opportunity for learning. Way to go!

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Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

great post! I'm interested in the power of failure and the shame that accompanies it which prevents people from starting a business, and I have posted a talk from TED exploring the emotion and its effect on innovation.

http://www.openideo.com/open/web-start-up/inspiration/confronting-shame-and-vulnerability-makes-a-good-entrepreneur-/

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Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

LOVE this idea! I 100% believe that the ability to fail forward is critical to design and creativity- the key is to understand how to use your failures as a catalyst to drive forward and learn. A couple examples of failure programs I have encountered/facilitated:

FailCon: http://thefailcon.com/

Camp WooHoo: An educator workshop on Failing Forward: http://campwoohoo.weebly.com/why-fail-forward.html

Fail Forward Fridays at Woodside Priory: http://www.prioryca.org/designthinking/

The "Yes, and.." I would add to your idea Meena is some more tangible tools and frameworks for those who share stories to capture "the moment of failure" and how it moved them forward...I also think it would be even more powerful to capture videos of people sharing their stories!

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Photo of Meena Kadri

Cheers for these links Ben – and fab that you have a personal connection to some. You might also enjoy this post from the Ghanasan blog which was posted by the IDEO team associated with our OpenIDEO Sanitation Challenge. There's a learning opportunity in every failure and that learning is so important, as you point out, to the sharing of these stories.

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Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

This is a wnderfill idea. Given that I have tarted 4 companies I feel like sharing the pitfalls with first times put there. There is an interesting cultural
Lessons and sensitivities to be learned as well.

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Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Wow, what a great system to record and learn from our failures, it's definitely a learning curve. At my school Hyper Island, we were continually encouraged to reflect and learn on our failures and obstacles, it is very important to grow.
Very interesting, thanks for sharing Meena!

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Photo of Amy Bonsall

Great find Meena. Every sector (and every school) should have this type of site!

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Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Well, first we need to keep in mind a Europen Curtual differences.

Most early stage failures of EU start-us is based on their inability to openly share their ideas, they try to keep idea maximaly secret, so more experineced peoples can't help them.

Alos from innovation perspective I allways say peoples "Do you want to ry it , even when when all previous atepmt fail! Great , Let's do it again, but this time in a little innovative way."

Web is wery inovative area, what was not possible yesterday, is imaginable today and doable tomorow.

Looking to much in past failures can insert too many "red lining" and inhibit many inovations.

Looking into failrures can need to be in same picture as lookking oportunites and sucess or it wil be depresing as reading The SUN and tBUS (True, But Useless)

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Photo of Krassimira Iordanova

Rudolf, I think you're bringing a great point about how culture gives a nuance to establishing start-ups-here is an inspiration along these lines http://www.openideo.com/open/web-start-up/inspiration/are-europeans-risk-averse/
What do you think?

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Photo of Krassimira Iordanova

Great inspiration, Meena! This brings me to think what are the cultural barriers to failure? Is risk aversity thought at school? how do parents deal with taking risks and what do they teach their kids?