Idea File: Do you have what it takes to admit failure?

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From Alex Proimos via Flickr/Creative Commons

Would you share a story about a time when you failed?

Recently I wrote about FailFaire, an event hosted by MobileActive.org that invites open discussion about failures in development. I love this concept because a) I’m a big fan of honesty and b) sharing stories and lessons can prevent us from making the same mistakes twice. It’s true most good ideas aren’t conceived in isolation – so isn’t it ideal to learn from those who tried before you?

Engineers Without Borders Canada agrees, so much so that they’ve created the website Admitting Failure for those of us in the social good world to publicly detail where we went wrong. Much like FailFaire, the overarching goal is to encourage people to see falling on your face not as shameful or embarrassing, but a necessary part of creating change.

Recently launched in January, it’s an admitted work-in-progress and the failures listed are a bit scarce at this point. So far you can read about the shortcomings of a GlobalGiving-supported soccer organization in Kenya; why an online community about climate change fell short; and how a CARE housing co-op project in Bangladesh missed all the right notes.

Of course, the challenges—such as pacifying donors and confronting our egos—remain. But it’s a dialogue worth pushing forward. And we’d love for you, the Idealist community, to be part of that conversation by leaving a comment below.

  • Tell us about a time in your life when you took action on an idea, but it didn’t work out the way you planned.
  • In the example that came to mind, what got in the way? What would have helped you at that point?
  • What advice would you give others to avoid the same mistakes?

Leave a comment, help someone else learn from what you tried, and we’ll consider featuring you on our home page!

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Comments (2)


  1. R. Djakovic writes:
    February 23, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    Admitting failure is extremely difficult to do, yet its essential for any organization or professional. We always place too much emphasis on success, so that when we don’t achieve it then we feel demoralized. Another issue is that we often hide and deny our failures, which is the wrong path to take. Please keep in mind that when you tell your personal story of failure then it helps others put their decision in perspective and ultimately the information lends itself towards success.


  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Idealist and mobileactive, Craig Zelizer. Craig Zelizer said: RT @idealist: Do you have what it takes to admit to a #fail? Blog post featuring @admitfail and @failfaire – http://bit.ly/fXKS0h [...]


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