Famous Fails

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Upshot and The Sports Think Tank are teaming up to host a one day event that brings together leaders, peers and stakeholders from across the Third Sector to discuss the concept of failure and how we can learn from it. The event will take place on 19 October at London City Hall from 9am–6pm and there will be a series of talks from keynote speakers, round-table discussions and workshops throughout the day. A link to purchase tickets can be found here

Across the Third Sector we spend a lot of time celebrating our success and highlighting the stories of social change. However, we never talk about the things that went wrong and what we have learned from them. Failure is a natural by-product of innovation and risk and the purpose of The F Word is to recognise this. Over the years, some of the most successful business men, women and organisations have experienced failure. But through learning from such adversities, they have been able to transform those failures into their biggest success stories.  

For example, KFC were infamously forced to close down 700 of their outlets after supply distribution issues led to them having no chicken to serve to their customers. This resulted in an apology campaign where KFC rearranged its famous three letters to spell out ‘FCK’ and followed this up with the words “we’re sorry”. The use of humour seemed to work a treat and helped to nullify the outrage that had been shown by customers.  

James Dyson, the owner of the best-selling vacuum cleaner and who is thought to boast a net worth of £7.8bn, was also not immune to failure, taking five years and 5,126 failed prototypes until he developed his first bag-less vacuum cleaner. Ten years later he had to develop his own manufacturing facility as others wouldn’t produce his vacuum. Dyson explained the importance of failure by outlining the fact that, ‘we have to get a kick out of it. Not in a perverse way, but in a problem-solving way’. In Dyson’s eyes, ‘failure is the starting point. When something fails you understand why it failed, and you can then start to think of ways to overcome these failures’.  

Post-It notes, the invention that no-one wanted, but ended up becoming one of the best-selling office products of all time. In 1968 3M were trying to create a super strong adhesive for use in the aerospace industry when building planes. However, it turned out an extremely weak and sensitive adhesive was created. Art Fry, a chemical engineer, then came up with a crafty plan to instead use the adhesive on the back of pieces of paper so that it could be stuck on any surface without leaving a mark. Fry suggested 3M should take a change on the invention but they chose to reject it, a decision I’m sure they’re still regretting today.

J.K. Rowling, the author of one of the most successful children’s books in history, was a single-mum living in quite poor conditions when she wrote her first Harry Potter book. Dozens of publishers rejected her manuscript and told her to get a job as there is ‘no money in children’s books’. She is now a billionaire. 

These failures are just as prevalent in the charity sector, but receive far less publicity. The lessons that can be learnt from these mistakes, however, should be no less salient. Dan Corry said, ‘It is important for charities to show you are an organisation which is determined to tackle one of the worst problems and you are always innovating to do so’. This emphasises the need to discuss failure so you and others can learn from them and develop your innovations for the better. 

If the above stories have piqued your interest, then visit The F Word website for more information on the event. Some confirmed speakers include Lindsay MacDonald (Street League), Cian Hughes (Google), Leon Mann (The Football Black List) and Fraser Daun (British Airways Pilot). If you are intrigued by the power of failure to create success, then this is the event for you. You can purchase your tickets here

Remember, Failure is not a dirty word… as the old adage goes; FAIL stands for ‘First Attempt in Learning!’

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