Admitting failure

The development community is failing to learn from failure. Instead of recognizing these experiences as learning opportunities, we hide them away out of fear and embarrassment.

That’s a great piece of copy. Plain common sense denotes that we should learn from our mistakes, though it seems that in the start up world we rarely do.

At best we briefly acknowledge our transgressions before we chug on to the next project. At worst, we blithely brag of failing fast (with other people’s money) as though that failure itself were a trophy to be collected and shown off like a Klout badge or Android lapel pin.

The quote above is the lede on a new website, Admitting Failure, which has been opened to provide a place for NGOs to share and discuss failures in mission. We need a website like that for start ups.

Speaking of which, read ex-staffer Mark Evan’s opinions of the events leading to Borders’ bankruptcy. This is probably the most honest and open examination of failure you will read this year. We need more of this kind of thing.

Passion does not make you competent

Passion is probably the most worn-out word in our great start-up culture. My favourite comment on this particular linguistic occupational overuse syndrome comes from award-winning magazine editor David Hepworth:

“If you wanted to fly somewhere and were offered a choice between one pilot who was capable and another who was immensely passionate about every aspect of flying, surely you’d choose the former rather than the latter? Feeling strongly about something doesn’t make you do it any better. It may well make you do it worse.”

Note that I have rather lazily afforded Mr. Hepworth some gravitas by describing him as an ‘award-winning’ magazine editor (he is). How much more useful is it, in this context, to introduce him by referring to his achievements rather than his emotions? If I had written ‘angry magazine editor’ or ‘cheerful magazine editor’ it wouldn’t have won you over. ‘Award-winning’ implies some basic level of competence.

When someone says to me that they’re passionate about social media, or even worse, passionate about their business, my eyes glaze over. If you enjoy your work or you believe in your idea that should come across quite naturally as you tell your story. I want to have faith in you too and I need to know that you can deliver. As our award-winning magazine editor suggests being a hot-blood is not always a desirable trait, having a cool head nearly always is.

Tell me what you’ve done and the battles you won and let me be the judge of your passion. Just don’t use that word to describe yourself, it’s exhausted.