Silicon Valley figured it out quite some time ago. Amidst all of the celebrations of success that had become common over its years — whether it be the Apple keynotes, the tech expos, or the entrepreneur conferences drawing massive crowds — where were the conversations about how innovation and growth really happened?
Where were the conferences dedicated to all the product misfires? The botched launches? Or the next-best-things that had quickly become the latest remember-that-thing? More importantly, where were the conversations happening in which successful innovators come clean about the hard work, the crushing defeats and the lessons learned that helped them iterate, innovate, and ultimately achieve their goals?
In 2009, San Francisco hosted the world’s first FailCon. “Entrepreneurs need to hear that from each other,” their website says. “It's okay to fail; it doesn't mean you're worthless. You're just like the rest of us, learning from making mistakes and building something bigger next time.”
This got us thinking about how we can apply this same philosophy to community work. To organizations who, even if they aren’t focused on product launches and business incubation, nonetheless face similar stresses and demands with program development, funding, organizational culture, and staff and volunteer management.
In October 2016 the ECVO met with multiple Edmonton non-profit Executive Directors and Ashley Good, CEO of the world’s first failure consultancy, to lay the foundation for Edmonton’s first failure conference. With both the expertise of non-profit leaders and Ashley Good’s experience consulting with non-profits and for-profits, organizers saw the potential for a conference that not only offered valuable learning and capacity building opportunities, but could help create common ground between the largely isolated non-profit, for-profit, and public sectors.
The stage was set for a conference diving head first into two universal themes:
The psychology of failure and how it manifests in organizations
How failure is linked to innovation, growth, and capacity building
By examining these themes, organizers felt that delegates would be able to leave Fail Safe more learned and confident in utilizing failure for good in their work. Instead of our failures being buried and forgotten (along with their lessons), let’s create a safe space for us to be honest with ourselves and with others about our struggles, to be up front about what needed to be rebuild and reconsidered, and be energized by our new capacity to be creative, iterative, and innovative.
We’ll start. You may have tuned in to the Fail Safe that was set for March 2018. Planning began in earnest immediately after the New Year, giving organizers an ambitious timeline of about 10 weeks from launch until the finish line. It was enough to book interesting speakers and develop a strong program, but not nearly enough time to get out into the community and share the story of what Fail Safe is trying to do. So, before long, we had to go back to the drawing board:
Yes, we failed to put on a conference about failure.
But an extra few months of planning has given us the space and time to create stronger connections with partners, collaborators, and the many organizations sending delegates to Fail Safe. Over one-and-a-half days in October, 200 delegates will connect around keynotes from the likes of Dr. Samuel West, Curator of the globe-trotting Museum of Failure, Paul Shoemaker, Founding President of Social Venture Partners International, and Ashley Good on what they've learned about failure, innovation and experimentation working alongside non-profits and corporations around the world. These speakers will help set the tone for casual networking, fun debates, and capacity-building breakouts that will leave us all charged up to go back to building strong and resilient organizations.
FailCon has become an international movement in the global entrepreneurial space. Events have been hosted in more than 20 cities and a dozen countries worldwide as innovators increasingly embrace failure as a fundamental part of their work. This October, let’s bring these conversations to Western Canada, where tens of thousands of non-profits are working alongside countless private and public organizations to affect change in our communities.