Celebrate our Failures

April 25, 2011

I read a line in a book recently that made me pause for a bit.

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“Anything worth doing is worth failing at.”

I immediately began to think of organizations like Matchsavings.org and other social ventures that began with an idea and a dream, but for a laundry list of internal and external factors did not flourish. They believed so strongly in their idea and the impact it could have, and though it was not sustainable in the end, I don’t consider it a failure on many levels. Blazing the trail for others to follow and learn from is almost just as valuable as if they still existed today.

Heather Esper recently wrote a NextBillion post on failure spurred by the recent noise around Greg Mortensen and the 60 Minutes special on CAI and Three Cups of Tea. Heather highlights some websites dedicated to the discussion around failed ventures.

Providing a forum for the self-submission and hopeful discussion around operational errors, market obstacles, and unforseen pitfalls is only as effective as the results of this information. As the old saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out”. It goes without saying that the more active and engaged users are, the richer the insight becomes. Yet, this crowd sourced information can be distilled into a standard to help entrepreneurs in their own unique industry. Imagine if there was a wealth of information on what to do and what NOT to do when starting up a microfinance business. Hopefully, over time, these insights can be synthesized and organized to help others learn.

One of the comments on Heather’s post discussed the usage of metrics. You can easily pick up an accounting book or a guide to entrepreneurship to learn about what financial reports to create. There are even guides to non-profits – yet what about businesses that want to bridge the gap between for- and non-profits? Because it is such a fledgling industry and the variations are many, it is difficult to create hard and fast metrics, like a traditional bank might.

As the industry grows (with successes and failures), we would be remiss not to publish the lessons learned. As I have observed through reading the posts on AdmittingFailure.com, it is very helpful to hear the information from the first person perspective; yet the more engaged the discussion becomes, the more refined and vetted the information becomes. Reading a “failed” entrepreneur write about his or her organization, I can’t help but come up with a bunch of follow up questions that would help me understand more. I’ve seen some posts where others have responded, and the discussion grows to something substantial. Celebrating these “failures” by teasing out the lessons learned can be invaluable to a hopeful entrepreneur.

Heather asks at the end of her post, “How do we encourage more transparency and accountability in organizations’ finances and impact?” I think that the distillation and organization of information is paramount to the success of the young Social Enterprise industry. With the increased interest in social impact organizations, we do not need to recreate the wheel with each new organization.

I am hesitant to use the word regulation, but to have a guide that provides templates, ratings, and standards would allow organizations to at least start from the same footing. It won’t take just one person’s story or book to provide the template for how we provide the right level of transparency, but through collective community insight. Conferences like SOCAP have the opportunity and the industry pull to get thought leaders together and get the ball rolling on developing industry standards.

- Chris

2 Responses to Celebrate our Failures

  1. Heather Esper on April 26, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Chris thanks for your insight, I especially agree that we need to develop better ways to organize and distill such information in order to permit constructive learning.

  2. Mario on May 3, 2011 at 4:59 am

    Great post Chris,

    we all know that examples of failures are everywhere, I guess it is that people do not know “how” to say “I failed”. We should work on it?


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