On a recent trip to Morocco, we stopped by the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh. The mosque stands next to ruins of its previous iteration. The mosque was originally built with a slight mistake in the orientation for prayer. The decision was made to rebuild the new mosque, identical to the original but with the correct orientation, right next to the original, which has since deteriorated.
What I love about this story is that nobody tried to hide the mistake. Instead, the mistake is proudly displayed next to the success. It reminded me of the Celebrating Failure series I worked on in India, which asked social entrepreneurs to share their lessons from failure.
What if start-ups, businesses, individuals, shared their failures right next to their successes? The logo that wasn’t chosen next to the one everyone knows. The original app template that tested horribly with users accessible via the new one everyone loves. The original business plan that never worked shared along with the current successful one. The wrong answers on my economics homework compared side-by-side with the right answers. Why do we hide our failures, when we and others can learn from them? In the case of the mosque in Marrakesh, it remains a memorable visual lesson for all of us.
We’re so often “inspired” by the latest social enterprise start-up, flashy idea, and rising stars, but I’m inspired by my friend and StartingBloc Fellow Jessica. Yesterday, I received a touching letter from Jessica letting me know that she is closing her non-profit of four years, Cheti. I’ve known about Jessica’s recent struggles with running Cheti and her incredibly difficult decision to close and let go of something she is so deeply passionate about.
Even more courageous than starting a venture like Cheti, it’s a brave and egoless decision to move on when it’s no longer having the intended impact or sustainability. And it’s thoughtful and important to share the difficult decision, successes, and failures, as Jessica has done with Cheti, and as others have for the Celebrating Failure series in SocialStory.
Being an entrepreneur is difficult. Failure is painful. Letting go is brave.
Jessica allowed me to share her beautiful note about saying goodbye to Cheti below:
A few weeks ago I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a Fireside Potluck, hosted by my StartingBloc friend and founder of inthis, Kevin Adler. The topic was one familiar to this blog–failure. (You may remember that Kevin participated in SocialStory’s Celebrating Failure series.)
With nearly 40 strangers cramped into a lovely San Francisco living room, we had a two-hour, open, honest, and insightful discussion on what failure means personally, professionally, and in society. Here are some highlights from our discussion:
One of my last pieces for SocialStory’s Celebrating Failure Series.
For the next edition of our series on lessons from failure, SocialStory spoke with Vipin Thek, who works for the Global Office at Ashoka. He previously led the Youth Venture program in India and co-founded an organization in Chennai that works to prevent child sexual abuse.
Here is his excellent advice for changemakers everywhere:
1. There is no failure, only growth
“I don’t follow the concept of failure,” says Vipin. “I believe that if you really look at life, there is no failure, only growth. When we do something that doesn’t go as planned, we need to learn from those experiences and grow from there, and not view it as a failure.”
When I moved to India in July 2012, I expected to come away having left a demonstrable, long-term impact at the affordable private school I would work with.
As soon as I settled down in my job, I realized that the work would be a lot more challenging, complicated, and slower than I could have ever imagined. Yet, I didn’t want to settle for what I thought were more unsustainable, easier, or smaller-scale projects. I have ideals about social enterprise work that is sustainable, well planned, and intentional, and that addresses the root causes of problems as opposed to just surface issues. Even though I was primarily responsible for work at just one school, I still wanted to think big. (more…)
This edition of SocialStory’s Celebrate Failure Series is a story of a retail store that achieved early success but eventual failure. Though it wasn’t an organization with an outright social mission, it’s important to remember that businesses such as retail stores also have a social impact by creating jobs and impacting the local economy. And any lessons about failure can apply to both the social and private sector.