November 13, 2020

Failing Smart: New IPIHD Paper Offers Strategies

“You have to be fundamentally willing to fail,” said Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the President of the Republic of Iceland in his opening remarks at a breakout session during the Clinton Global Initiative 2014, an annual meeting that attracts leaders, organizers, and innovators from around the world working to tackle a wide array of critical issues we face today. But the breakout session – “Can we fail faster, bigger and better for greater impact?”– was itself an illustration of the challenges behind talking about failure.

The session had an impressive panel of widely recognized leaders including Grímsson and Musimbi Kanyoro, CFO, Global Fund for Women. But the room was not even half filled.   Failure isn’t what people want to hear about.

When people attend conferences they are eager to hear from leaders and organizations who share their success stories. But the panelists in this session urged the audience to challenge the prevailing opinion of what creates success.  Panelists spoke about how they used failure as an opportunity to learn and grow as individuals and improve their institutions.

Smart Failure breakout session, 2014 IPIHD Annual Forum

Panelists touched on the same two themes about failing smart:  1) shift the dialogue from one of sharing only success to one of sharing failures and learning from our mistakes and 2) fail quickly and then adapt.

These themes echo the findings of IPIHD’s latest report in its Innovation Insights Series: “Smart Failure,” written by Andrea Taylor, Eleni Vlachos, and Sarah Gelfand. This paper summarizes the discussion from IPIHD’s Annual Forum panel and breakout sessions in which organizations openly shared how they have used failures as stepping stones to success. The paper emphasizes the importance of the same two “failing” strategies discussed repeatedly during the panel at CGI 2014 and offers four strategies that innovators and supporters within the IPIHD network have deployed. “Learning to embrace failure may be one of the most useful strategies that entrepreneurs in any field can adopt,” the authors write. “It can seem counter-intuitive, but a willingness to fail is a key component of success.”


To read the paper and learn more about the four strategies for failing smart, click here.