Be a Winner: Learn From Mistakes – Yours and Those of Others

Failing doesn’t make you a failure; it makes you a learner. If you don’t think that this applies to running a business or nonprofit, think again. Bad experience is a great business leader.

collaboration, failure, networking, nonprofit. social enterpriseForget all the harping about having to “make it.” Remember only the adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.” I guarantee that in each of those subsequent tries, you’ll be wiser and go further than you might have on your first try.

With that as my philosophy, I am delighted by a new website,

Admitting Failure, created by the Canadian group, Engineers Without Borders. It is meant to be a collaborative site where governments, nonprofits, donors, and, yes, even private sector investors can learn from the mistakes of others.

Nonprofits are encouraged to air their mistakes: not listening enough to local people, not being flexible, not recognizing the limitations or their own infrastructure.

As the report from 1Sky says, “We hope our story will help you avoid some pitfalls, and achieve ambitious online organizing goals.”

When you download 1Sky’s full report, you get a soul-baring description of goals, planning, errors, and how to do it right. What a gift 1Sky has given to the nonprofit community: the experience without the pain. That experience is worth a lot if your nonprofit is planning an online community tool.

Or the after-school program that forgot to ask just what kind of jobs it should realistically be training kids for instead of training them to go to college.

Basic, basic questions that if asked early and often will shape a much more effective and successful program.

Global Giving, no small player in the nonprofit world, shares the story of its failure to determine if its programs actually served beneficiaries or only met external goals.

Wouldn’t you like to know more about the evils of:

  • Confusing activities with outcomes
  • Using distorted financial incentives to achieve an outcome
  • Failing to fully gauge how many targeted beneficiaries are genuinely open and motivated to change
  • Basing success on the personality of one person
  • Overconfidence
  • Lack of local historical knowledge

The range of tales, from failure to assess organizational readiness to failure to market effectively, is worth more than an MBA program. Or as Ian Smillie, who posted his failure, says:

The development challenge is not to avoid the risk that comes with charting new paths. It is not to deny failure. It is to learn, to remember, and to apply what is being remembered. That is the difference between information – of which we have so much today – and knowledge, of which we seem to have far too little.

I love this website. Read it and, just as importantly, contribute to it. Share the lessons you’ve learned with others so they don’t fall into the same potholes you did.

This is, by the way, the essence of collaboration and networking, two of the mainstays of leadership and success these days. Both of these arts requires letting your hair down and being honest.

What lessons have you learned from mistakes? Has failing in something made you or your organization stronger?

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