Failure Wall


Another way of embracing dirt is to dish it up on your very own’ Failure Wall’. Harvard Business Review continues to mine the vein of failure with pieces most recently in a post in the HBR Blog Network by Chairman and CEO of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp Jeff Stibel called “Why I Hire People Who Fail” (thanks Aidan). Before getting into the hiring of failures (I’ll cover that next week), he talked about his ‘Failure Wall’…

  • “The failure wall was part of our efforts to create a company culture where employees can take risks without fear of reprisal. As NPR’s Here and Now reported earlier this year, we started by collecting inspirational quotes about failure. Among my favorites…’Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life.’ – Sophia Loren…[T]hese simple instructions: (1) describe a time when you failed, (2) state what you learned, and (3) sign your name. To set the tone, I listed three of my own most memorable (and humbling) failures. In the beginning, the wall was met with surprise, curiosity and a bit of trepidation. We didn’t ask anyone to contribute and we didn’t tell people why it was there, but the wall quickly filled up. Some of the entries are life lessons: ‘After 7 years of practicing, I quit playing violin in high school to fit in. Lesson learned — who cares what other people think.” Some are financial mishaps: “I thought buying Yahoo at $485 a share was a good idea.’ Many are self-deprecating: ‘My successful failure is working in online marketing when I came to LA to work in showbiz.’ Some are more than a little amusing: ‘I thought it was spelled ‘fale.”’ I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: success by failure is not an oxymoron. When you make a mistake, you’re forced to look back and find out exactly where you went wrong, and formulate a new plan for your next attempt. By contrast, when you succeed, you don’t always know exactly what you did right that made you successful (often, it’s luck).”

When I spoke about how Microsoft embraced failure at executive events (“better to fail and know why, than to succeed and not know why”), people would often ask what could they do to foster such an environment themselves. The Failure Wall is as good a place as any…with the highest possible executive kicking things off with their own contribution.