Sometimes, organizations do things that really
restore your faith in humanity. Often
times, those organizations are Canadian, as with Engineers Without Borders, who
each year releases a full-color, handsomely produced, thoughtfully conceived,
and well-written Failure Report. They explain:
EWB believes that success in development is not possible without taking risks and innovating – which inevitably means failing sometimes. We also believe that it’s important to publicly celebrate these failures, which allows us to share the lessons more broadly and create a culture that encourages creativity and calculated risk taking.
Now, it’s one thing for Sir Richard Branson to give an interview extolling the virtues of failing and trying again to budding entrepreneurs, or for Oprah to stand up in from of Harvard’s graduating class and tell them failure is ultimately the key to success. These are good messages, for sure. And please, billionaires, keep on saying them.
But to actually take the mantra that success only comes through failure so to heart as to conceive and produce a formal magazine—akin to an Annual Report—on failure? That not only takes moxie, but it speaks volumes about the ethos of Engineers Without Borders. It tells us just about everything we need to know about them. Probably we already thought they were pretty cool for taking on life-changing projects in underdeveloped countries; but one look at the Failure Report and they’ve instantly become an organization we’d support whole-heartedly.
Why? Because, in simplest terms, it means they get it. They get that real learning only occurs through an often painful process of trial-and-error. They get that perseverance, that greatest of human attributes which gave rise to every important discovery and breakthrough in our limited history, isn’t innate, but hard-won over a lifetime. They get that honesty is more important than perfection. They get that transparency trumps spin. They get the raw power in admissions like this:
I was given the freedom to visit farmers in their homes and in their fields, and to embed myself in different businesses to see the challenges from an inside perspective. I didn’t do it.
Which means, ultimately, that they get the inherent capacity of humans to appreciate grit over polish, to discern and applaud authentic effort in the service of meaningful change. And because they get all that, they get our respect. Our admiration. And even our contribution.
So we’re going to redouble our own efforts to keep track of where we failed and why. We’re only about six weeks old, but we’re quite sure we’ve already amassed more than a few mistakes. Check back in the coming weeks as we continue to take inventory and see what we can learn about ourselves through our own failures.