The Upside of Failure

In our success driven society, it’s easy to believe received wisdom that there’s nothing worse than failure.  Unfortunately, this consistent message has led to the greatest failure of all — the failure of nerve resulting in a decline of innovation.  However, if you ask  anyone who has launched a truly successful knowledge management initiative how they did it, they will undoubtedly tell you that their great overnight success was preceded by lots of trial and error.  In other words, they risked (and suffered) failure for the sake of innovation.

As I chart my progress through this project of switching domains and blogging platforms, I have to remind myself that it’s only a blog and that there isn’t any real “danger of death by failing.”  In fact, lots of others have walked this path before and have survived to tell the tale.  On the other hand, I also have to remind myself that my natural state of excessive optimism is probably not justified given my woeful lack of IT skills.  (Admittedly, there are lots of folks who would find switching their blog over to be a piece of cake.  Unfortunately, I’m not one of them.)

So here I am, making a ridiculous number of beginner’s mistakes and yet — something of worth is emerging.  Better still, I’m learning a great deal from exploring this new territory and that new knowledge will continue to pay dividends.

This is the upside of failure.

[Photo credit:  Estherase (and Simon), under a Creative Commons license]

8 thoughts on “The Upside of Failure

  1. Hear Hear! Failure is an opportunity to learn! (And the probability of remembering the lesson learned is directly correlated to the size and severity of the failure!)

    🙂 If you need any help or advice, don’t hesitate to hit the many online forums out there. People watch for ways to help new people in those forums.

    Best of luck, and if there’s any way I can be of assistance, tweet me @webvixn!

    🙂 Cyndi

    1. Thanks so much, Cyndi. I sometimes feel like a toddler doing this! Therefore, it makes me all the more grateful for offers of help like yours.

      – Mary

  2. Mary –

    Great new place for you to hang out. Some thoughts for you:

    1. Put a new post over on blogger redirecting people to this new site.

    2. But a subscribe button near the top of your small column. (I am a big fan using feedburner for subscriptions).

    3. Find a different theme than the default theme. I am big fan of the Tarski theme that I have on They are very easy to install.

    4. Fill out your blogroll.

    You have definitely lost your non-techie street cred.

    1. Thanks very much, Doug. I’m treating this a little like a preview on Broadway. My plan is to get all those things done (and more!) before opening night. I had thought about doing everything before going public, but decided that if I was going to “walk the walk” about innovating despite the fear of failure, it would be good to document what I’m learning as I go through the process. So this is my public experiment. Warts and all…

      As for non-techie cred, believe me — my lack of credentials has definitely made this process more challenging than it needed to be. On the other hand, it’s given me a marvelous reminder that I have some terrifically helpful techie friends!

      – Mary

  3. Hi Mary

    Reading your blog reminds me of a couple of my resolutions for this year:
    1. Failing fast and improving by learning. In particular that means getting things out there much more quickly and shortening the feedback cycles so that I can adjust what doesn’t work and improve what does.
    2. Up-date my blog with some new features – WordPress is full of great plugins just begging to be tried!

    So thanks alot – and best I get onto it 🙂

    1. Hi Penny:

      I love your concept of “failing fast and improving by learning.” The catch for me is that I work in an industry populated by perfectionists! Building this blog incrementally and publicly is my antidote to the paralysis of perfectionism.

      Good luck with your resolutions…and do pass on any good plugins you find!

      – Mary

  4. Mary –

    The other failure / success concept to think about is that the lack of success is not automatically failure. This is particularly true with “safe-fail” projects. Lots of projects take little time, money and or energy to put in place. If they are not successful, so little time, money or energy was spent that it is hard to call it a failure. Perhaps un-noticed and un-loved and but not a failure.

    This blog for an example. (Which I personally think is a huge success.) It would be a failure if you got fired for producing it. If nobody read or visited the site, it may be hard to call it a success. If nobody read or visited the site AND you spent tens of thousands of dollars to create it, then it would be a failure.

    It seems there is this middle ground between success and failure that we need to get more comfortable with.

    1. Doug –

      Thanks for your reminder to think a little deeper about what success and failure really mean. Something that is ignored and unloved may not be a failure so much as it is something that simply hasn’t be given enough support to truly succeed. Knowing how to identify this area of limbo and how to move projects out of limbo into success is a critical skill.

      Thanks also for your kind words about this blog. Much depends on how we define success/failure for ourselves. For me, failure would be a blog that neither provoked conversation nor spurred me to think harder about knowledge management and life. Since I’ve been privileged to enjoy lots of good conversation with my blog readers AND I feel like I’ve been getting a graduate education in KM over the course of the last year, I’d count this blog a success — at least on my terms. The fact that Above and Beyond KM has also earned a little recognition from the Blawggies (courtesy of Dennis Kennedy) and the CLawBies (courtesy of Steve Matthews) is a delicious icing on the cake.

      – Mary

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