A recent article in the New York Times refers to a Conference/initiative in San Francisco where the agenda is built around speakers from start-ups who have failed. They may have failed, but, the conference, apparently, was a success. Surely finding the speakers was the easy part. As quoted in the same article, 30-40% of venture capital backed start-ups spend all the investors money, and 70-80 % don’t deliver (Shikar Ghosh, Harvard Business School).
That conference is an interesting piece of news in itself. More interesting, is the fact that this year’s attempt to repeat the conference was a failure. It had to be cancelled. The organiser’s reason? “Failure chatter has become normal, the lexicon of failure is adopted, the conference seemed superfluous”!
And the article continues: ‘Failure has been significantly de-stigmatised’. And here is more on the cultural aspects of the Valley/Bay area: ‘If you fail, some investors believe that you’ve got the guts to take it to the mat [as in a wrestling mat] (…) that your are not personally going to be so damaged by adversity as to lose your persistence in business, that you’ll fight’.
This San Francisco Bay Area twist in the traditional acceptance of failure is seriously interesting. Don’t get any ideas that this is going to go viral. In many places, failure is still not something declared in the open. There is reluctance to wash dirty laundry in public. For years I have suggested and written about the need to create a visible Hall of Failures as a way to boost trust, allow risk, de-penalise wrong moves etc. I have also stated that it should start at the top: ‘My last month’s failure has been…’ Or something like that. Our Reboot! Accelerator includes the finding of those items for the Hall of Mistakes as one of the 12 diagnostic pieces. It works fantastically well.
I don’t see an immediate replication and adoption of the Fail Conference outside the start-up arena, or, perhaps, more specifically, the start up arena of the Valley and Bay areas. But, who knows? I may launch one of these next year… In the meantime, recruiting officers looking at CVs, take note.
I used to go to a brilliant networking club in London called The Cock Up Club. Speakers would share their ‘cock ups’ and what they learned from them. The most memorable was Robert Ford the radio operator for the Dali Lama who was captured in Tibet. An incredible man with an incredible story, and such a forgiving heart. What we can learn from the things that go wrong is so special and important. We are robbed by those who want to hide it away in shame.