Fuckups teach you who you are // Develop your ideas with your customer or client // Humility is very important // Know when to cut your losses and move on
These are just a few of the nuggets of wisdom that the presenters at the recent Fuckup Nights (FUN) event shared with the 100+ attendees at The Turbine (a co-working space and business incubator) in Moka District. The event was the first of its kind in Mauritius and was organized in partnership with Red Dot (an innovation consulting firm) and Dodo Work Play (an interactive team training firm). It was inspired by a co-organizer’s conference visit to Singapore where she first came across the idea of FUN and believed it could transform the business and entrepreneurship landscape of Mauritius.
FUN is a global movement with events currently taking place in 80 countries and across 252 cities. The premise is simple: share your failures. Tell your failure story. Or stories, because, as Samuel Beckett once wrote: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better”. How many times have you heard the phrase “success story”, been invited to hear a business leader share her/his success story, or been asked to share your own success story? We like to celebrate successes (and they should be celebrated!) and we often use them as a source of inspiration and encouragement. But then we are left with the corollary—we conceal our failures or, worse yet, we avoid them altogether and, in so doing, we ignore opportunities to grow or we become stagnant and neglect innovation.
On a personal level, I am 100% guilty of this. I often think about all the opportunities I have passed up, or all the projects I’ve dreamed up but never executed, all for fear of failing. And that fear of failing can manifest itself in subtle ways, for example in self-doubt (“I don’t think I can do that”) or self-handicapping (“I’m probably not going to be able to do it as well as others so I might as well not bother”). I often feel like I’m living my own version of Sliding Doors (yep, that 1998 Gwyneth Paltrow movie) where I imagine myself in that other (read: better, happier, more successful) parallel life if only I’d had the courage to do this or say yes to that. A fear of failure was the reason it took me 6 years (6 years!!!) to launch my own blog. Fear of failure has become a pervasive force in society and, in some acute cases, it is considered a disorder (atychiphobia, i.e. an irrational and persistent fear of failing) and is often associated with other disorders (such as mood disorder, anxiety disorder, and eating disorder). Think of all that talent and creativity that could be unleashed in the world if only we, individually and collectively, would embrace and celebrate failure!
What if there was another way of thinking about failure, a way of thinking about failure that also redefines what it means to be successful? “Success” is, arguably, a relative term and what might be considered success in one culture might be mediocrity in another. But, regardless, I think success is often measured in tangible, material ways—whether its the size of one’s bank account, or the places one frequents, or the people one associates with—reflecting the rampant materialism and elitism we find in almost every corner of the globe these days. But what if the goal of success, on both a personal and a professional level, was to develop one’s capacity to be of service to society and one’s community? And what if an indicator of success was, for example, the degree to which one devoted her/his time to helping others do the same?
This is what FUN aims to do: to create a culture shift around failure and enable a mindset of innovation. Business leaders and entrepreneurs are provided a platform and invited to share their professional fuckups—a business that fails spectacularly, soured partnerships, a defective product—with an audience of strangers. It reminds us that 1) none of us is perfect, even those who are seemingly flawless (*cough* Beyoncé *cough*) and 2) nothing in life that is worth doing comes easy. Or, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt:
Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.
Ashley Saddul, a Mauritian native and the founder and CTO of Recruiter.com, the largest recruitment platform in the United States, attributes Recruiter.com’s success to his many past business failings. He told the large FUN audience the story of his failed business venture, Sword.com, where, due to his own hubris and short-sightedness, he lost two years of his life and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Lost but not wasted as the failure of Swords.com taught him many valuable lessons, the most significant of which he generously shared with his audience:
- Do not assume to know the client/customer’s needs and desires. Instead, develop your ideas with your customer/client. This creative synergy between developer and client is more likely to result in a product that the client/customer can and will use.
- Forget about spending countless months and dollars building and perfecting a product, launching it, and then expecting clients/customers to flock to it and adopt it (because, spoiler alert, they usually don’t). Instead, iterate rapidly. This is essentially the principle behind lean experimentation, something I had come across while researching various program evaluation methods last year: 1) create an MVP (minimal viable product), 2) send it out into the real world for testing, 3) rapidly generate and analyze feedback, and 4) make product improvements or pivot accordingly. Repeat steps 2-4. Repeat again. Each cycle should take only a handful of weeks, rather than many months, and it engages the key stakeholders (i.e. the clients/customers).
- Know when to cut your losses, learn from your failure, and move on. This is part of accepting the fact that failure is indispensable to success. To grow and develop, we need to be tested and challenged. The tree most pruned is the one that has the deepest roots and bears the most fruit.
So, share your failures! (#sharethefailure). Share your failures so that others might also benefit. And encourage others to share their failures that you might learn something from them, too.