No one likes to fail, but it happens to everyone at some point and it’s almost never fun. Dealing with failure is something that I have personally struggled with throughout my life. Early on, my parents instilled a drive to succeed in all of my academic endeavors. I was anxious every time my report card came out. Anything less than an A would be considered a failure and garner disappointment from my parents. Perhaps unintentionally, that created a deep fear of failure that manifested in various ways later in my life. I would be paralyzed when trying to write anything. Externally this would look like procrastination when in fact I was afraid of failing to create something less than perfect. Even when I could get started I would stay up all night tweaking and editing. This fear would even follow me into my martial arts practice. I would be fine when practicing with fellow students and instructors, but the moment I had to perform alone that fear of failure would creep up again. It took me a long time to realize that failure is not only just a part of life, but a necessary one.
Team Toolkit encourages people to think differently and to approach problem solving in new ways. This involves a certain level of risk. The new thing we try might work out fantastically or it might not. We could not encourage people to take risks and be bold with any integrity if we were not also willing to do so individually and as a team. So we make it a point to go after things that seem out of reach and try to also do things in novel ways.
In an early quest for funding, we had to suit up and present our Innovation Toolkit concept to a panel of judges. A lot was riding on this. We had done our initial ground work without any funding, but now that we were ready to move from concept to product we needed some cash. We worked hard on that presentation and it felt like the future of the project was riding on it. However, the judges did not select our project. We failed.
At that point, something really cool happened. Aileen, in her infinite wisdom, decided to mark the milestone and celebrate our first significant failure by bringing in our first Failure Cake. On this cake, in bold red icing, were the words “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop.” It was delicious in so many ways.
This started our tradition of Failure Cakes. Now whenever we try to do something new and different, whenever we take a risk, we look at it as another opportunity to get cake. We celebrate our successes too, of course, but a successful proposal usually means more work and we don’t always have time for cake. Our failure cakes, on the other hand, are a bit more memorable. Maybe it’s because we need them more.
Our small team can’t usually eat an entire Failure Cake, so we share them with everyone in our hallway. And yes, we tell people why we are having cake, which allows us to talk about and reflect on the situation. This usually causes a bit of confusion, because most people are not familiar with the Failure Cake concept. However, sharing our failure is a way to let people know what we have been up to, to lead by example by celebrating failure, and hopefully to inspire and encourage others to be bold and try new things. Why? Because the worst that could happen is cake.
We’d love to hear how you encourage boldness or celebrate failure. And we’d really love to see photos of your failure cakes!
Post by Jessica Yu
What a brilliant idea. I never would have thought of using cake as a means to celebrate an attempt, a reflection opportunity, and as a pick me up! Who knew cake could be so versatile!
I think it’s important to understand not all failure is really and truly failure. Sometimes failure is merely a stepping stone and that is worth celebrating!
I LOVE this!! All of it. Such a great way to embrace Reality, instead of being paralyzed by it.
And it’s too true: why don’t we take the time to celebrate the successes? Maybe we are too busy catching up on lost sleep…
Great post, extremely well written. Thanks for sharing!
Jessica, Thanks for sharing this – what a fun way to learn and celebrate. When something doesn’t work out as desired or hoped, it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn. Reflecting on “what’s the biggest learning” is valuable and helps drive to the end result. Personally, I dislike the word “failure”; Tom Chi (inventor of Google Glass) goes so far as to say “failure” darkens parts of our brain which thwarts innovation. Congratulations on a well-written article, encouraging others to take risks, and celebrating either way!
In related news, SECAF Wilson recently offered to buy a celebratory cake for a program office that tries to do something innovative & experiences “a constructive failure” (http://www.airforcemag.com/Features/Pages/2017/October%202017/Speeding-Up-Acquisition-a-Bunch.aspx)
Great story on how a team can develop a learning mindset with public ceremonies.
Like Eileen, I wish the Agile/Innovation community would use LEARNING instead of failure. While failure has much more physiological energy than learning it is negative.
My goal is to learn from failure cakes and re-brand them as “learning cakes” That would be something to truly celebrate.
I like Bill Donaldson’s idea of “learning cakes.” We learn much more from our “supposed” failures than we do from our successes. Life is all about learning. If we continue to learn and put into practice what we’ve learned, then we’re a success at life even if we didn’t get the outcome we were aiming for at the point in time.
Kind of funny that even before Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, he illuminated what constitutes success/failure.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” And…“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Edison
― Thomas A. Edison