Fail Better: Learn how to make nonprofit failures maximally useful

Let’s face it: Failure is universal. It is universally associated with avoidance, denial, frustration and shame. Yet smart individuals, teams, and even some organizations have discovered failure, if anticipated, evaluated, and corrected, can be the answer to succeeding sooner.

Fail Better authors Anjali Sastry and Kara Penn personally have experienced and observed these interactions with failing better and have assembled a systematic approach for improving how you fail. If we know failure is inevitable, why not get better at it?

Our latest recommended book is about just that—how to fail better. Sastry and Penn have designed a purposeful way to experiment and innovate that will transform your failures into opportunities to learn, modify and improve.

If you’ve ever asked any of the following questions, then Fail Better is for you:

“How do I deliver on my work—get my ‘real job’ done—and at the same time innovate and improve?”

“How do I improve my own personal practices and habits to enable even better impact?”

“How can I learn from previous experience, within our organization or more broadly?”

Sastry and Penn explain that “smart leaders, entrepreneurs and change agents design their innovation projects with a key idea in mind: ensure that every failure is maximally useful.” In Fail Better, the authors show you how to create the conditions, culture and habits to determine what the most
effective solutions are by:

1) launching every project with the necessary groundwork,

2) building and refining ideas, products and services through iterative action, and

3) identifying the learning moments and embedding the knowledge.

Launch, iterate, embed

In other words, the book discusses how to address failures and make them beneficial before (launch), during (iteration) and after (embedding) the project’s work. You will learn an invaluable skill you may never have developed before: how to distinguish “preventable, wasteful and uninstructive failures” from helpful ones you can incorporate into your process.

Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights and failing better

The Civil Rights Movement is an example of iterating and embedding your learning. Initially, when the movement did not accomplish enough change working through the legal system, it began to look at lessons from India’s independence and worked with the NAACP to share assets and capabilities. The leaders had to consider the time horizon by acknowledging that their movements in the short run could possibly only pay off in the long run.

They practiced civil disobedience in many settings and shared their field-tested advice with other groups. They were constantly telling their stories through speeches. They continuously embedded their learning when they met to discuss and debate perspectives and tactics. The ultimate embedding occurred with the civil rights legislation. They, especially Martin Luther King, Jr., documented (embedded) their thoughts as well.

If nonprofits are willing to accept that failure is inevitable and part of progress, then they can enjoy the benefits turning mistakes into productive experiences. Both large and small organizations can implement the launch-iterate-embed practices Sastry and Penn recommend in the book. Watch for future installments about the Fail Better method and how you can embrace failure for what it can teach you.

See also:

Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Repeatability: Build Enduring Businesses for a World of Constant Change

Image credits: rrfit-com, thoughthouse.org, morethansound.net, gradstudentway.com

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