The license to fail

The only hand I remember getting at the Personal Democracy Forum was when I suggested that government must be granted the license to fail – and we’re the ones the grant it – so it can have the courage to innovate. The culture of government doesn’t allow failure, which means it won’t tolerate risk.

Now see Craig Newmark returning from the UK, seeing a larger culture of failurephobia there and the impact that has on innovation, technology, and business:

I was struck by the repeated comment that failure is stigmatized in UK business culture. In Silicon Valley, failure is just a normal phase of one’s career. You might succeed in your first endeavor, probably not, so you’re ready to persist in subsequent efforts…..

That’s generally true in Silicon Valley, maybe needs to be true in the UK and maybe everywhere else.

I’m thinking a lot about this lately: the need to risk and fail and not hold perfection as the standard of success.

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    • C D Ledbetter

      Failure is a part of life, whether we like it or not. For businesses, it is costly, but, if you look at the big picture, when a company fails in something during R&D phase, even on something minor, they then get the change to fix the item, and often, the result is a bigger and better. Think WD-40… electric lights

      Trust is a big part of business environment these days…and, smart companies are asking their clients for suggestions on how to fix problems and make their products better…when companies involve the people who actually USE their products in the evolutionary process of something, they build trust, and repeat customers….makes sense…

  • JohnF

    The ability to fail not only helps the guy who fails, but, more importantly, helps the rest of us by weeding out bad ideas and practices and letting the participants try again to do something others will want.

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  • James P

    I’m in an industry that seems to be failing (slowly) in the UK but nobody wants to acknowledge it. I’d be happy to cut the ties with the businesses and model we have, wipe the slate clean and start again but there’s that small problem of funding…

    Neither I nor our company have any cash. The banks here in the UK are not lending, no matter what the government might tell people. We’re in a catch 22.

    What makes things so different in Sillicon Valley to allow failure and help people start again with a clean slate? Is funding more readily available? If so how do we get a slice of the pie all the way out here in Blighty?

    Any suggestions very welcome!

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  • I’d love to make some deep comment about this… but I can’t. This concept JUST MAKES SENSE and is something that I try to communicate whenever I do training or teaching.

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  • Andy Freeman

    > The culture of government doesn’t allow failure, which means it won’t tolerate risk.

    The culture of govt is to never admit failure.

    When someone won’t shut down mistakes, it’s silly to let them try things.

    • Wm Jeff Siddall

      It is not just the government that will not admit failure. Humans in general are reluctant to lose face by admitting failure. We learn from our failures when we own them openly and honestly. Failure as a successful tool for improvement will only work if the failure and its root causes (lessons learned) are shared openly. Business question: Should that include sharing with our competition?

  • Failure is a part in business… each party involved assesses the risks themselves, pays the costs themselves.

    But government is at root about coercion — about forcing other people to support the government’s programs. There’s not as much choice as in a business situation.

    Government is not a business. Businesses must attract, while governments must compel.

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