Have you ever failed miserably, and told people about it?
Traditionally, failure is something to hide, to never talk about and to get over. But within failure, there exist lessons that are valuable and crucial to who we are, decisions we make and what we ultimately do with our lives. Failure is important to discuss and share, but as a society, we are still bound by the shackles of shame, embarrassment and repression. In a bid to outdo all this, and give failure an equal chance, India Fellow recently organised a full day conference, dedicated to failure. They called it ‘FailKaun’.
FailKaun 2018 was a day-long event where we tried to look at failure differently. To look beyond and find lessons to learn from it. The day was about acknowledging failure in our lives, sharing it and making sense of it.
The day began with each participant building a CV of failure. A CV or resume is usually a detail about us minus our failure which highlights achievements, thereby only telling one another a certain kind of story. At the conference, each participant had to pen down their own failures on the CV and share it with other participants. The activity enabled people to interact deeply with strangers at the first go, build sensitivity and empathy and also get a chance to share their own failures with others.
The day was divided into three sessions. The first session was about personal learning and stories around failure. Speakers gave their own examples of personal and professional failure, how they dealt with it and the lessons learnt.
Here’s one advice all of us can use,“The easiest way to deal with failure is to stop caring what other people think about you. It is incredible how much freedom that will bring. At the same time, it’s important to listen if everyone around you is giving the same kind of feedback.”
Venkat, the founder of Give India, said that he fails every day, as he makes a big list of things to do and is unable to do half of it. From there to not being able to save lives, the speakers, as well as the participants, reflected upon opportunities they got because they failed at something else. They also answered how they deal with failure, instantly or over a long period of time. “In any case,” said Madhavan from Water Aid India, “there’s no alternative to pain. Our thresholds may differ, but we all have to cope with it.”
From individual speakers, we moved to organisational failure. The session was about organisations, how they fail and is there a way to know when to accept failure. Manali Shah, an independent facilitator, and a speaker for the event raised the question, “Failure from whose perspective?” She explained that many times when organisations complete their targets but forget the vision of the company, the founder might experience a kind of failure, even when the initiative has been very successful. She also stressed on the importance of asking your teams, “How far are you from the purpose of the organisation?” instead of “Who is at fault?” Culturally, we have been taught to hide mistakes in India, right from less mark in report cards to conflicts in relationships. If only we talk openly, we will be able to break down our failure into challenges, setbacks, mistakes and implementation issues.
Rachita Misra from SELCO Foundation talked about internal processes within the team which have been set up to understand the success and failure of initiatives taken up. In professional set-ups, the leaders should also understand when to communicate failure to others. They need to know the cost of delaying the decision to share the news of failure with everyone else. If it leads to the compromise of values, it’s usually not worth it. Ashish Shrivastava, working on an educational initiative in conflict-ridden Sukma, Chhattisgarh, spoke of the need to remember that compromising on smaller things may often feel like a failure. But when you know the larger purpose, you feel confident to make those compromises.
The third (and last) session was about Policy failure, where Parth from ‘Centre for Civil Society’ and Shobhit from ‘Vision India Foundation’ came together to discuss, “When does policy fail?” The conversation included major policies of the day like the Right To Education, Demonetisation, and the odd-even rule in Delhi. The conversation moved from failure in policy design to policy implementation, and more importantly, the human errors in policy.
The day ended up trying to take on personal, organisational and policy level failure, demystify them and also acknowledging their worth in the overall scheme of things. We are looking at a growing narrative around people accepting their failures and sharing them on national level platforms. The day ended with everyone going back taking a piece of acceptance and confidence around their own failures and learning about the stories of others.
India Fellow is a 13-month experiential, social leadership program for young Indians that includes working full-time for a year with a field partner organisation (called ‘host organisation’), on a specific project or issue, together with training, peer learning and mentoring.