The other 'F' word



SAN FRANCISCO--Last April 7, OLC attended Rocket Studios for “The other F word” book about failure in a fireside chat with the authors John Denver and Mark Coopersmith followed by a mini panel discussion.


John Denver - JD

Mark Coopersmith - MC


MC - John, why didn’t you write this book?

JD - This book started with a school course where I teach at Princeton. While I taught a lot about innovation and trying, all these students were scared to dance with a partner, “failure.”


Mark and I were able to look over the landscape of the failure literature. There is a lot of stuff out there on this but most of it can be hard to put into practice. Some of the literature is just about self help, which is nice but not always the right context when it comes failing at work or with your company.


This book was aiming at trying to turn failure into a strategic resource. Because we think failure at heart is a strategic resource.


Spend a few minutes thinking about a professional failure in your life. What did you learn from that?


MC - What does every organization want?


JD - They want growth, innovation and engaged employees. If you want growth, you need innovation, but why are people scared to innovate? Failure and risk.


If you want a great place to work, you have to have trust! When thinking about trust, you need to think about how and when it is created. It mostly doesn’t happen when things are going great and smooth. It happens when something goes wrong and people are able to handle rough times such as a failure and learn from it and grow.


The Failure Cycle

Respect - you need to respect the fail. It’s going to happen. You need to accept it and learn from it.

Rehearse - think about some failure scenarios. Understand them and how you might handle them.

Recognize - Do you have the early warning signs? Are you paying attention to them? Recognize them.


React - Think about how failures ends. The people it involves. People will be paying attention to how you handle it. Failure feeds fear.


Reflect - What did you learn from this? How can you build a new strategy from your failure and learning? The “who” (as in who’s fault it might be) is the last question you should be asking and pointing fingers.

Rebound - Bouncing back from the failure. This is part of reflect and involves moving past the failure.

Remember - Don’t make the same mistakes again.


Panel Discussion

Cass Phillips, Creative Manager, Pocket Gems - CP

Mark Schulz, Co-Founder, Clover Network - MS

Duncan Logan, Founder & CEO, RocketSpace - DL

Jitendra Kavathekar, Managing Director, Accenture OPen Innovation - JK


Mark Coopersmith - MC

John Denver - JD


JD - You’ve been talking about failure before we have.. tell us about that?


MC - “Fear of failure was the best predictor of failure.” - My dad.


DL - “Sheep produce lambs, they have one objective in life and that’s find a new way to die?” - My dad. Running a startup is almost the same. When you think things are going well it finds a way to hit a brick wall.


CP - I started thinking about Failcon in 2009. I had been doing events for a while and was working on making on my own startup. Had the typical conversations about user testing and raising money but was lying. I said things were going well and I was learning. Things were going horrible. I wanted a safe place to go and vent.


“I’ve done users tests and I don’t believe them, I don’t know what to do?


MC - How do you feel about people over celebrating failure?


CP - There is a new post mortem happening about failure. It now seems cool to fail and write about it. Are entrepreneurs giving up too early? Are they not tracking and analyzing things enough? They give in to failure too quick.


MC - How unique is being here in the valley?


DL - I came here from London and had my first failure here. Once it happened I got a call from my VC and he was like what’s next? I was taken back and not expecting to hear from him. I don’t think I would have gotten that call somewhere else.


CP - Founders are getting it. They know they are going to fail. In different cultures and different parts of the US, failure is still not widely accepted. The idea of failure is bad and buried so deep in our cultural mindset.


MS - In these days, people will ask you about your failures to see how you rebounded and handled them. Some people will look down on your for not having any these days.


JK - Some VC will call it risk capital and are more accepting of it, while others are not.