Failure

This week we talked a lot about what types of technologies can work for development and which technologies fail. We also saw many presentations about apps and programs that can help for development. A common theme that I noticed throughout all the tech tools we saw presented was that no group brought up the real implementation challenges that their tool faced. I think that this happens because the data on these failures is not available. In the development field failure is seen as a bad word, No one is willing to admit that a project as failed for fear of removal of funds or bad publicity. I read this article about how failure is the “f word of international development” and how realizing failure helped this organization realize how to adapt and change.

While most people see failure as a single abject stage this author says that failure should be split into several stages based on the impact that is has on the project and community.

  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 LLC
  4. Structural failure
    It cuts – deeply – but it doesn’t permanently cripple your identity or enterprise. Examples: Apple iOS 5 Maps; 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.”

All of these types a failure mean a different thing and if development groups and governments could learn lessons from these failure then maybe development projects would be more successful.

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