Is it okay to use the ‘F’ word in your organisation?

Hand written sketchnotes from the Placing Small Bets plenary session

Admit it: we all make mistakes. And try things that don’t work. There’s no shame in this, so the saying goes.

Yet, when things go awry it’s something we tend to keep quiet about. Or brush aside. We definitely do not shout out loud I failed.

If Beth Kanter has her way, we’ll change our ways. We need to look at ‘failure’ afresh.

As she recently wrote “people won’t try out new ideas or approaches if failure is seen as a career-killer. But when it’s treated like what it is — an opportunity to learn — it can be a fun and rewarding process.”

At the Nonprofit Technology Conference – held 11-13 April in Minneapolis (which I joined as a virtual participant) – Beth invited participants to take a failure bow.

Stand up and acknowledge failure was the message Beth and her fellow panellists sahred with the 1500 participants.

It isn’t obligatory to make such a public song and dance about acknowledging failures. There are quieter, internal rituals that organisational can adopt to make it okay to say things didn’t work.

A few examples of organisations consciously addressing failure are shared in a recent blog post by Beth (“Go ahead, take a Failure Bow!” published on Harvard Business Review blog). Holding a quarterly FailFest, running joyful funerals and organising honest loser awards are some of the practices organisations have adopted.

There is a serious point to the frivolity: organisations need to be brave and own up when dump things just don’t work. Trying new things is stifled if everyobody is too scared to make mistakes.

At workshops Beth is running in Auckland next month, participants will be invited to fess up and take a failure bow. I’m not sure how people will react, but I certainly have my share of failures to own up to.

Can you see open acknowledgement of failure playing a role in your organisation?

PS Don’t miss out on learning from Beth. Register now for workshops on 11 & 13 May 2013, in Auckland.