The Courage of Failing Publicly

When I was in high school, I once refused to do something that my friends were doing because I knew I wouldn’t like the outcome. When pressed about how I knew and asked “Have you ever tried?” my response was this:

I don’t have time to learn from only my own mistakes.

I’ve never been particularly fond of the notion that in order to know what will and won’t happen one has to personally do all the dirty work of learning.

Knowing this about me, it’s less surprising to hear that I’ve spent a lot of time lately encouraging those around me to “fail publicly”. It’s not an easy call to make, of course. No one likes being wrong, let alone being wrong where everyone can see you. The idea behind it is this: if something doesn’t go as planned, and others can see it, then they can help find a stronger solution.

But there are two chances for discomfort here that I rarely, if ever, acknowledge. Boldly doing something in front of people while knowing that it could go badly is a clear risk. It doesn’t matter what that something is, public imperfection is terrifying. The other discomfort comes after that, though.

Failing publicly has no benefit to us, although it still might to others, if we are not able to learn from it. Growth is never something that comes easy and, if we aren’t open to the idea that something needs to be fixed, personal growth can be stopped in its tracks entirely.

I work on projects that, when done well, are intensely public and open. I have made so many mistakes during my time working on them and witnessed even more than I have made. I didn’t start out with the willingness to share my failings and I think that other people could have learned from me… even if I couldn’t have learned from myself at the time.

So… Note to Self – Do what you can with what you’ve got and let people see where you don’t have what it takes. Someone else might have exactly what is needed to get the job done.

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