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This is a guest post by (my boss) Tessie San Martin, CEO of Plan International USA. Tessie presented at Fail Faire DC last night. These are her thoughts on the event, and about failure in general.

I attended the most extraordinary event, hosted by the World Bank and organized and sponsored by a variety of organizations including Development Gateway, Inveneo, Jhpiego, and Facilitating Change.

The objective of the event was to share our failures using technology in a development context, and to be bold, forthright, honest, and (this is very important when talking about one’s shortcomings!) humorous. There were 10 presenters (including me).   We all agreed to be on the record.   The event, and the fact that I agreed to be on the record did make my IT and Communications teams a wee bit anxious.  But I was keen to take on this opportunity.

We do not celebrate failure often enough.  But we should.  As Tim Harford has said in his very entertaining book, Adapt, “Few company bosses would care to admit it, but the market fumbles its way to success, as successful ideas take off and unsuccessful ones die.  When we see the survivors of this process – such as…General Electric and Procter and Gamble – we shouldn’t merely see success.  We should also see the long, tangled history of failure…”

In my presentation I spoke about what I call organizational kryptonite (all the geeky readers out there like me will know that kryptonite is matter that weakens – and slowly kills with extended exposure – Superman):  being silent about your failures.  If we do not share – and learn from – failures, we will never learn what works.  If we do not take risks, and encourage experimentation, we will never advance.  The successful organizations are those that motivate risk taking. As well as transparency and openness, about what is working and what is not.

So I attended this Fail Fair, and happily shared with the audience our various challenges (a nice euphemism don’t you think?) with the application of technology for not just what I could learn (and I learned a lot) but also for what attending and presenting says about Plan.  We are failing.  And in that failure we are learning, adapting and advancing, and therefore improving our ability to improve the lives of children around the world.

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