Why failure is a good thing

On Saturday I joined 100 people who are interested in how companies work, for the first #responsiveorg unconference in London.

There are many people around the world who are working to help organisations move away from an industrial command-and-control model, to one that can react the fastest to new information and become more responsive. At the weekend they came together for the first time in the UK.

The Responsive Organisation describes itself as “a vendor-agnostic community of people who are leading the shift in how companies learn, adapt and respond to a constantly evolving world.”

It took place at the HUB, Westminster and during the course of the day the attendees – who ranged from organisational psychologists to internal communicators and futurologists, had the opportunity to move conversations from online to in person and work together.

I recorded interviews throughout the day and will be publishing them as my next For Immediate Release presents All Things IC with Rachel Miller podcast at the end of the month.

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Here were some of the day’s themes:

  • Why we work – Purpose; motivation; passion; employee engagement; customer engagement
  • How we work – Leadership; Management, Skills, Culture
  • Where we work – Physical-workplace; mobility; anywhere-working
  • How we design our organisations – Business models; operating/organisational models; strategy; systems and processes.


If you’re unfamiliar with an unconference format, it means the delegates set the agenda. So at the start of the day, we had a “marketplace” in the middle of the circle of attendees, where you could stand up and offer to facilitate a session on the topic of your choice.

I decided to put myself forward to lead a session on failure. I wanted to gather people in the room together to swap stories, share ideas and talk about why making mistakes is a good thing, how ‘working out loud’ can lead to greater transparency and to hear from other people what they are doing in their organisations or with their clients to examine when things don’t work to plan.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the group give their insights and the tweets below give a flavour of what we discussed.

The upshot of the session was that failure is a good thing because it enables you to learn and to constantly improve what you do, both as individuals and as companies. Creating environments where employees are able to share their mistakes is a healthy thing to do.

One of my favourite thoughts from the session was the comment:

“People work so hard on not failing that they forget how to succeed”

One of the group spoke candidly about his experience working with other people and how he had to admit the business was failing. So he had to fold it, pick himself up and try again. I asked him how he knew it had been a failure – you can read his response below via @IsabelRY.

I wanted to know about the language of failures, whether people have cultures where it is ok to talk about mistakes, or whether they tangle themselves up in “learnings” rather than saying “this mucked up royally, so this is what we did as a result and what we will do differently next time.”

I wrote recently about Google and how they have internal awards for celebrating failure – you can read about it via my blog.

A Church of Fail session also took place later in the day. I love this idea. I’ve not taken part in one myself and was in a different session on Saturday. It’s been developed by NixonMcInnes agency and is an opportunity for people to say out loud what failures and mistakes they have had.

The room is set up in a church style – so someone standing up the front speaking, and you can even go all out and decorate the room. The most important part is that whoever speaks admits some mistakes/failures and the room erupts in rousing applause, cheers and whoops.

NixonMcInnes does this monthly in their organisation. Find out more about it here.

Could this work for you? I’d love to know how you talk about failure or mistakes in your organisation, or what the barriers are. As ever, you’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

To find out more about The Responsive Organisation, see the presentation below:

Further reading about Responsive Organisation from attendees


See the responsive org website, find them on Twitter @responsiveorg or see #responsiveorg.

Storify of the footnotes, conversations and content

Microsoft’s Mike Grafham writes about #responsiveorg

Public sector session notes (Google doc)

Storytelling session from Saturday

Philip Sheldrake’s blog on the event

Sketchnotes from Virpi Oinonen

Post author: Rachel Miller.


  1. […] Failure is a good thing, by Rachel Miller […]

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