Failure as a Hobby

I’ve been hearing a lot about failure recently. Ben Beath described the goal as “Fail quickly and safely”, while Mike Cannon-Brookes took a step back, viewing failure as a critical component of the innovation lifecycle.

Promoting failure seems at odds with systems designed to reward success. Universities don’t reward people for failing courses, and businesses don’t reward people for putting in lots of effort (but getting nowhere). Rewarding failure seems to stop when you become an adult – just look at the encouragement and praise given to a child who hasn’t quite managed to take their first walking step.

A lot can be done at universities to overcome this issue, with the right approach. Not everything you do at university is assessed, and that means universities are the perfect environments to fail safely. You can make a terrible presentation in the second week of the course, and still pass the final exam. The trick is getting people to realise that, at least early on in their course, there are very few (if any!) consequences to making a poor presentation.

ideocial is a startup by almost anyone’s definition, and it is my first. I hope there aren’t any more, because that means ideocial has been successful. Does that mean that I should try something less ambitious first, and wait for a few failures before trying the ‘real’ thing?

The Lean Startup of Me has some great advice on why you shouldn’t treat life as a dress rehearsal, but actually there have been lots of failed experiments in my life – I just prefer to look at them as hobbies. Hobbies, in this context, means things you do in your spare time, rather than things that you try to do regularly!

Hobbies are perfect for failing at. People don’t generally judge your cooking ability, golf swing, fishing technique, or model train setup. Rather embarrassingly, I’ve made a few Yammer apps as a hobby. They were successful in some ways, and failures in others. What I can tell you is that ideocial will have both successes and failures, but those failures won’t come from mistakes that I’ve made in the past.

If you’re serious about learning or advancing your career, think about how you can create an environment which minimises the consequences of failure. There are endless opportunities to incorporate aspects of your work outside their normal context. Explore those opportunities and experiment without the fear of failure.