Redevelopment Works - What to make of Failure



Today I’d like to talk a bit about something that most of us try to avoid, even though it’s a perfectly normal and natural part of life. Something that some people will go to great lengths to hide or cover up, even though we all do it, all the time. While certain bodily functions might come to mind, I’m actually talking about failure.

Despite receiving some positive attention in recent years, the willingness to fail still seems largely a niche trait. Engineers are one group that love to fail, for example. Historically, Edison famously failed to create a functional lightbulb some 9000 times before he worked out a successful iteration, and that willingness to try, try again, is engrained in most in folks who love to tinker and invent.

In Redevelopment, we fail a lot, too. And we’re okay with that. The only way to never fail is to never try anything. And we if never try anything, well…what are we even doing?? Like engineers, we absolutely must educate ourselves, analyze, and strategize before we take action, but all the planning in the world will mean nothing if we do not then act. The simple fact, though, is that not every action will end in absolute success.

Failure, of course, is relative, and actions which do not end in the originally desired result are learning experiences, even potential ‘happy accidents’ – think of the Slinky, super glue, and chocolate chip cookies! They are not absolute failures IF those actions are planned and undertaken strategically and intelligently, within the framework of a solid vision. The inventor of the Slinky wasn’t just fooling around; he was trying to create a specific sort of spring, and he did…just not exactly the one he envisioned at first! The inventor of super glue was trying to create a specific sort of clear plastic, and he did…just one that was much more liquid, and a LOT stickier, than he originally intended. The inventor of chocolate chip cookies was trying to bake chocolate cookies, and she did…but her substitution of one type of chocolate for another resulted in the sublime gooey deliciousness we enjoy today.

To do anything at all is to risk failure in someone’s eyes, of course, and so we emphasize accountability and transparency to reduce miscommunication and mistrust. Accountability requires that we research and plan appropriately up front, and then do what we say we’ll do. Transparency requires that we remain in regular communication with those around us, highlighting challenges as they arise and inviting discussion on how to respond to them. We also have a responsibility to frame policy and procedure in the reality of local lives and experiences so that there is an understanding of what priorities are guiding decision-making. It’s not a perfect process, and there is still no way to please everyone all the time. Some people will always prefer a traditional chocolate cookie over a chocolate chip cookie.

I can promise you I will fail. I will learn. I will have some happy accidents (ask my daughter about the piggycorn cake). I will try again, as often as needed, until I succeed, because to do nothing is the only true failure!


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