Freedom to Fail, Harvard-Style

Even Harvard Business Review gets it: failure is a necessary part of creation and innovation.  This blog post highlights how a few forward-thinking organizations build failure-friendly practices into their structure.  One of our favorites is from

DoSomething.Org, a nonprofit that helps young people take action on social change initiatives, has a “FailFest” once a quarter (some people call this a FailFaire). It’s an off-the-record session open to all staff, interns, and board members and it’s designed to send a message: Failure isn’t something to be ashamed of. CEO Nancy Lublin presented during the first-ever event, demonstrating that admitting mistakes was OK and would be rewarded.

The two or three presenters at each FailFest follow specific rules:

  1. They wear a hot-pink feather boa (provided).
  2. They present for no longer than 10 minutes, and then take two minutes of Q&A from the group.
  3. They cover the goal, history, and timing of the failure; what went right and what went wrong; three things he or she personally learned; three things learned.
  4. They present lessons using a fun metaphor. For example, they might show a photo of a celebrity or sing a song lyric that summarizes what they took away from their gaffe. This makes the presentations less speech-like and more, well, silly.

By making failure silly and fun, takes the sting out of what might otherwise feel embarrassing.

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