If You’re Not Failing at ICT4D, You’re Not Trying Hard Enough

For last class, the readings focused on how to avoid ICT4D failures, but according to an ICTWorks article, failure is in fact a good sign in this field. It seems backwards – failure usually indicates a waste of effort, time, and money; but according to the ICT4D professionals behind “Fail Faire DC,” failure brings to light some glaring faults in project planning and implementation and lessons can be learned for future success.

The event, sponsored by the World Bank, Development Gateway, Inveneo, Jhpiego, and Facilitating Change, brought together individuals in ICT4D to openly discuss their failures and collaborate about ways to avoid similar setbacks in the future. Wayan Vota (who we have talked about in class) opened the conference and was followed by a series presentations of representatives from different development organizations including Plan International , the World Bank,  and Development Gateway. At the end of the night, the light-hearted nature of the event was continued with an XO laptop presented to a representative from USAID for best ICT4D failure.

The event has made failure more acceptable in the international development community and spawned a greater conversation around failure and the need to fail in order to expand in ICT4D, according to the folks at ICTWorks.

Shortly after hosting the Fail Faire, Wayan Vota posted these “10 Levels of Failure” on his website:

1) Catastrophic Failure: Failure a scale so vast as to encompass the lives and livelihoods of generations to come. Examples: the meltdowns at Fukushima Dai-1 and Chernobyl; building codes in Haiti before January 2010. Possible future catastrophic fails: asteroids, climate change.

2) Abject Failure: This failure marks you and you may not ever fully recover from it. People lose their lives, jobs, respect, or livelihoods. Examples: British Petroleum’s Gulf oil spill; mortgage-backed securities.

3) Start-Up Failure: A big bet backed by money and momentum, that wipes out both when the market shifts or the business model hits reality. Examples: Pets.com; Jumo.org; Solyndra

4) Structural Failure: It cuts – deeply – but it doesn’t permanently cripple your identity or enterprise. Examples: Apple iPhone 4’s antenna; Windows Vista.

5) Glorious Failure: Going out in a botched but beautiful blaze of glory – catastrophic but exhilarating. Example: Jamaican bobsled team.

6) Epic Failure: This is a failure that brings joy to all and perhaps even fame and stardom for the fail succeeder. Examples: Celebrity antics; Youtube videos of people falling down; FAILblog

7) Common Failure: Everyday instances of screwing up that are not too difficult to recover from. The apology was invented for this category. Examples: oversleeping and missing a meeting at work; forgetting to pick up your kids from school; overcooking the tuna.

8) Version Failure: Small failures that lead to incremental but meaningful improvements over time. Examples: Linux operating system; evolution.

9) Predicted Failure: Failure as an essential part of a process that allows you to see what it is you really need to do more clearly because of the shortcomings. Example: the prototype — only by creating imperfect early versions of it can you learn what’s necessary to refine it.

10) Opportunity Failure: The failure to take risks that leaves you wanting and is usually associated with sentences that begin with, “I should have…” Examples: Not buying Apple stock in 2006; Not selling Nokia stock in 2010; Not getting off your butt today.

These approaches to failure speak volumes about the people behind the ICT4D that are driving innovation and development across the globe today. Approaching the world’s toughest problems with a sense of humor and dose of reality is a necessity and I think it is really cool that movers and shakers in this field can acknowledge their failures while working towards success.

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