#221 The joy of failure

By Cathryn Wellner / December 20, 2011

Photo by penywise, via morgueFile

A whole Web site dedicated to failure? Oh, how I would have loved to have access to a site like this back in the days when I was doing community development. Things didn’t always work out, for me or for the organizations I worked with. And sometimes the failures were the real successes. Sometimes they taught us we were heading in the wrong direction. Other times they reminded us that applying for funding just because it was there was a bad idea because we really did know where we were heading.

But did we dare confide in our funders, admit our failures, tell them we did not do what we hoped to do but did something better instead – or even failed miserably and closed that idea down completely?

Risky business because the failures might mean we would never find funding again. “Honesty is the best policy” only works if you’re not in the running for dollars to support your work.

So Admitting Failure is a breath of fresh air. Engineers Without Borders Canada is the mastermind behind it. I learned about it from the TED video below. It’s David Damberger’s refreshingly honest talk about an embarrassing, and completely understandable, failure.

What I love about the Admitting Failure site is its honesty. If you’re still struggling to find the dollars to support your work, if you’ve just experienced the failure of a project you were convinced would succeed, head on over and join the good company.

There are only a handful of failures online at this point, but they are good ones. Add yours. The idea that success is possible without a lot of prior failures is pretty stupid. It’s also wrong.

I met a guy once who was one of the most widely published scholars in his field. His success rate was less than one in ten. But those successes, built on utter failures, were smashing. He was at the top of his field. Why? Because he was not afraid to fail.

So go ahead. Sign on. Admit your failures. You and a lot of other struggling projects will be glad you did.


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Brenda Jackson - December 22, 2011

After living in Malawi for a year I have to say this young man’s story rings far too true. It is so good to hear an organization facing these issues. Africa and aid is so complex and definitely needs fixing. Not that I have the answers but at least it seems he and others are beginning to ask the right questions. This does give me hope. Thank you Catherine.

    admin - December 22, 2011

    I’m really encouraged by it and hope it inspires a lot more honesty and soul searching in the development community. Sounds as if you have some fascinating stories to tell.

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