Monday, January 05, 2009

Failure in 2009

Bungalow ArtI think Memphis has 2 traditional civic narratives of risk and failure. I would call them cycles but the circle is broken by their forgetfulness.
  1. Try

  2. Fail

  3. Recriminate, or "You Suck! I Suck! We Suck! Memphis Sucks! We should have never tried! We're gonna die! Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!"

  4. Heap derision and shame on the attemptee.

  5. Forget lessons learned from this horrible, horrible event.
A case study.

Or a more corporatist narrative:

Art on Side of Barksdale Market

  1. Try

  2. Fail

  3. Publicize success

  4. Blame bad press for appearance of failure

  5. Eventually abandon failure.

  6. Cleanse institutional memory.

  7. Repeat, all previous lessons forgotten.
A case study.

The first narrative personifies and demonizes failure; the second denies it.

My wish for Memphis is to shun these narratives of the status-quo, and embrace fast, iterative, educational cycles of risk, failure and success.

    Midtown Alley
  1. Try

  2. Fail

  3. Learn, or "Where did I make mistakes and what can I can do differently next time? Looking for another opportunity."

  4. Try Again

  5. Maybe Fail Again

  6. Definitely Learn Again

  7. Iterate


  8. Succeed!

  9. Learn.

  10. Try Something Else.

Failure as not only an inevitability but a necessity is very new to me, and mind-blowing. (proof of my old way of thinking.)

The change for me has come from this article about the work of Carol Dweck (who I've written about before), the work and openness of the entrepeneurial evangelists at LaunchMemphis, Mr. Jalopy's quote that "people are not born craftsmen, they just have the courage to screw things up." and this passage from Jeff Haynie's "What's Wrong with the Atlanta startup ecosystem and how to fix it":
Lots of deals for some period - say the next 3-4 years - will fail. Our goal should be to fund smaller amounts faster, build some teams up that can execute on different ideas without much concerns for revenue models and salespeople, and then FAIL FAST. Fail as fast as possible with as little capital invested as practical. Once they fail, they must be encouraged to START AGAIN as soon as possible! Refactor. Get back on the horse. What can we do different next time around? These failures should be not be shamed. Let’s go ahead and get rid of the startup scarlet letter. We need more starts. We need an economy that allows the whole thing to get going and fail and get going again - without having to mortgage houses and without having to present 5-year financials to get $50K. Go go go. Dream big and let’s find you some money to try it out.
Failure, and a creative attitude about it, will build the skill and the ecosystem.

Public Art on South Main


Blogger Joe Spake - Memphis said...

Excellent post to kick off 2009. Thanks for the continuing wake up calls.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Aaron said...

Well said. Well said.

12:42 PM  
Blogger Eric Mathews said...

Great Post . . . Couldn't agree more. Thanks for supporting LaunchMemphis.

12:01 AM  
Anonymous Amie V said...

Hear hear!

9:35 AM  

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