Inspiration from blunders: a plea for openness

You’re probably familiar with it. Pitches from young companies trying to convince their listeners that their solution is unique and will be a great success. The quality of these pitches has improved these days because of the increased attention to presentation techniques, such as timing, design of slides and one-liners. I rarely encounter pitchers whose presentation is substandard anymore. Pitch training is now one of the standard tools of many young entrepreneurs’ development paths.  

Still, such performances increasingly leave one with an unsettled feeling. Is the solution presented really as perfect as it is portrayed? Where are the weaknesses in the proposition? These are often not brought to the table. Despite improved presentation techniques, a sense of doubt often remains.

This phenomenon occurs not only in the world of startups. Corporates almost by definition only show their best side in their annual reports and CSR reports. And in fact, the same is usually true of most other players such as universities, government agencies and NGOs. For the reader, these expressions are usually uninspiring and more importantly, you learn nothing from them. Simply because learning moments are usually not named.

And that is particularly unfortunate, especially at a time when people often talk about learning organizations and even a learning society. In practice, there is usually very little room to learn from each other by sharing missteps. However, failures are a source of new information and can lead to new solutions. Therefore, we advocate consciously paying attention to blunders made as learning moments and sources of innovation, rather than as signs of failure. Sharing mistakes made then becomes much more about strength and good leadership. Moreover, it also serves the rest of society.

How can we break through the fear of sharing blunders? There are several ways to promote this. For example, government-funded innovation projects can be required to include a “learning paragraph” in their reporting. Also, startups can easily address in their pitches things that went differently in their development than expected and how they have subsequently dealt with them. As a potential funder, I would be interested above average in the learning ability of the team behind the young venture. Although sharing misses cannot be enforced for most companies, in the long run, more and more organizations will come to realize the importance of a learning society and will also want to share blunders as part of this.