Posted by: mhirdyounger | February 26, 2013

Courage to Innovate over Fear to Fail

Have you ever read a Failure Report? An organizational report dedicated to outing the biggest failures of the year? To hanging dirty laundry for the whole world to see?

I have. In fact, I work for an organization that write a Failure Report annually. An organization that actually attracts high quality talented staff because of that report. That wins awards because of its commitment to Admitting Failure.

Now I didn’t join EWB because of the Failure Report, but after working with them for awhile, I have truly come to value what it does for this organization and for my own work.

Yes, it’s about learning from your mistakes. About saying “sometimes went wrong here, what would I do differently next time?”. But it’s more than that. As Ashley Good puts in the forward of this year’s report, there are failures in this report that have been in the report before! Doesn’t that mean it’s not working?

No, because it’s more than that. For me, the failure report is more about organizational culture than just reporting mistakes. It’s about being OK with making mistakes, with trying things out, with not getting it right the first time. Let’s say you think development projects are not seeing enough success in your sector, but you don’t have the guts to try something different and potentially fail, well then you will just keep doing the same old thing that you don’t really think is making enough impact anyway. Instead, embracing failure encourages you to take those risks, try an innovative approach to have the impact you want to see in your sector.

Yes, you will definitely make mistakes. Yes, you might not get it right the first time. But that’s ok, you learn, you try again, you get farther each time until you start to see the system you’re working in changing and the impact that you want to see materializing. It’s about prototyping your ideas and being open and adaptable to the fact that you probably won’t get it right the first time. It means our strategic decisions are not coming from a place of fear, but of a place of creativity, ingenuity, dreaming and imagining. As Sal Alajek states in this year’s report: “fear blocks our creativity and guarantees failure”.

It’s not easy, it can be pretty scary to push those safe boundaries of what’s already there. It takes courage. I’m taking a courageous step within EWB of driving the Agricultural Extension Venture forward in a new strategic direction. Our first year is going to include a lot of prototyping, trying things out to determine what is the best way to achieve the outcomes we’re seeking. We’ve calculated into our timelines space for prototyping multiple times, for learning as we go. I don’t know if this would be the case were it not for an organizational culture that promotes dreaming big, innovating and learning from failure.


  1. I had no idea about EWB’s failure reports; thank you for sharing this!
    Are the reports for the whole organization, or country-by-country?

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