Team Toolkit recently did an experiment. We observed, we learned, and were humbled. We want to do it again, and in this story we’d like to share it with you.

As we mentioned in an earlier blog post, our team celebrates unsuccessful endeavors with Failure Cakes. A week ago we were sitting around a table for an idea jam session with some really brilliant individuals and one of them asked “Why don’t you share a failure cake outside of the team?”

Sounded like a good idea to us, so seven days later we set up a great big cake on a table in our corporate cafeteria. The cake said “Congratulations on Failing” in big cursive letters. We also set up a giant whiteboard and invited our colleagues to share a story of their failure in exchange for a slice of cake. Three of us each put a failure sticky on the whiteboard to get things started.

Sitting behind the untouched sheet cake we couldn’t help but wonder – would sharing our failure cake be a failure?

It was not. What it was: scary, fun, interesting, emotional, & worthwhile.

We connected with so many people that day. Heard so many stories. It was fantastic to have people laugh when we said, “failure cake” and amazing to observe the thoughtfulness and courage demonstrated by those who did share a failure. Most touching was to see people standing in front of the whiteboard, carefully reading through the stickies, shaking their heads in recognition or reading one aloud and sympathizing. We talked with people who themselves were touched, and genuinely thanked us for reframing failures with cake. And believe it or not – we heard from a project leader who read Jessica’s blog post and shared a failure cake with his team following a recent project failure.

So, what did we discover from this experiment?

MITRE employees are not afraid to fail. They recognize the growth and learning that comes with – one employee said, “if not for this failure, I wouldn’t be here at MITRE”.

MITRE employees are also not afraid to share their failures, at least if cake is involved. This vulnerability and transparency is essential for building an environment that fosters innovation – so keep it up!

To each and every one of you who shared, thank you. We can’t wait to eat another cake with you.

To everyone who said you never failed, weird flex but we’ll save you a slice.