Foundations Admit Mistakes…How About Businesses?
A Very refreshing article in the New York Times about foundations not only not burying their mistakes, but actually looking at how they happened, what went wrong, and what to do better the next time around.
Just a few years ago, it would have been astonishing for a foundation, particularly one as traditional as Carnegie, to publicize a failure. Today, though, many of the nation’s largest foundations regard disclosing and analyzing their failures as bordering on a moral obligation.
“There’s an increasing recognition among foundation leaders that not to be public about failures is essentially indefensible,” said Phil Buchanan, the executive director of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, which advises foundations. “If something didn’t work, it is incumbent upon you to make sure others don’t make the same mistake.
I see this as a welcome trend, and one that businesses can learn from. Failure is not something to be ashamed of. I had a number of failures in business before I started the one I’m in now, back in 1981–and even then, it had to change with the times. It has reinvented itself several times, and I feel another reinvention percolating (don’t know how it will shape up yet).
Entrepreneurs almost always have failures to “brag” about. otherwise, we wouldn’t be entrepreneurs, because in order of succeed, you have to take risks.
When asked about has many failed attempts to develop a light bulb, Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have
successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” (Quoted in The
World Bank. 1994. World Development Report 1994: Infrastructure for
Development. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press and cited here.)
I’ll tell you about a few of my failures over the years, within my current, successful business:
I won’t bore you with the whole long list. But I do think it’s important to take stock, to reflect on the mistakes/failures as well as the brilliant successes. I’ve learned, I’ve channeled my energy into becoming not only more successful financially, but a better person. And it’s showing results.
I urge you to admit and discuss your setbacks as well as your successes.
Maybe I should add admitting setbacks to the Business Ethics Pledge