Enterprise 2.0 Failures: The Story Behind the Session & A Challenge

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pdnj6cO-oew’]

(For the Challenge, skip to the bottom)

Attending last year’s Enterprise 2.0 conference was a great experience. I learned a ton, met friends I had never met before in carbon, and left feeling invigorated. But there was a nagging feeling – it was all too perfect.

The sessions and keynotes were all about how great this was and how successful everyone had been. But I knew those were not the full stories. Having worked on Social Business for a few years, I had made my share of mistakes and had made a partial living off of fixing the mistakes of others and I learned a ton from these experiences. Why should a conference be any different? Why can’t we learn from each others’ mistakes? Was there a huge fear of failure?

So, when the call for presenters went out, I decided to talk about failures. I had some I could share, and I was sure I could find others so it didn’t turn into a “Kevin Failure Show.” I was wrong. As I started compiling stories I realized that there were very few who were willing to talk about their failures. But I had to go forward and the only failures I knew where my own or were from organizations I had worked with – and I didn’t feel like I could rat them out.

My first thought was, “I don’t have THAT many failures I could share!” Wrong again. It was amazing how many times I had failed. Not catastrophically, but even in small and simple ways.

My sweet wife was concerned. “Will it look like you are a total failure? Will they understand that you are really good at what you do?” I assured her it would be just fine. But this meant I had to be very open and transparent about my mistakes. This really is not an easy thing to do (mentally).

While creating the content for the session I learned that all of us make very few huge failures, but instead we make many small ones, quickly learn and adjust and turn them into wins. And the more I thought about it, the more mistakes I could name off. Soon, there were so many that I had to figure out which went into the presentation, and which I would merely mention and not explain.

The day of the presentation came. I was scheduled for the first time slot immediately after the keynotes. Arriving a bit early, I set up as I watched attendees pour in to this huge room. Susan Scrupski (queen of the Social Business Council) came up and said, “Have you seen the line to get in?” I had to go see this. She was right and it was long. By the time everyone had filed in, this large room was full.

I mention this only to point out that the reason they were there was not because of me, but because of the topic of failure – there were many others that felt the same way I did – a nice validation of my thoughts, but now the pressure was on (I didn’t want a live failure of a presentation on failure!). They wanted to learn from the mistakes of others so they would not repeat it.

In another post I will go over the content, but there are a couple things I did in the session that were kind of fun. The day before, during the workshops, I made the above video, and that is how I started it off. Immediately after it was silent, everyone waiting for me to start. I stood there, quietly for a moment, and then said, “Hi. I’m Kevin and I have failed.” A few giggles followed. I had planted four others in the audience who, in turn, stood up and introduced themselves and said the same thing. It was a Fail Flashmob or an FA meeting (Failures Anonymous). Then I went on to talk about the nature of failure, followed by examples of failure and how they could be overcome.

Time was running out and I had MANY more in the hopper (just in case time went long). I didn’t expect to explain most of them, but just use as examples. Later others told me that as I blew through the last 20 or so, they personally recognized each one and realized that we fail all the time, but we recover.

(Link to the presentation.)

At the very end I issued two challenges to the audience. The first was to share their failures and not be afraid to talk about them. The second was to join me in discussing them after the conference has ended.

And so I invite you as well. Each week I will post an Enterprise 2.0 failure on this blog and encourage you to answer these two questions: 1) how can we avoid it and 2) if it still happens, how can we correct it? I have enough for a half year’s worth and by the time that comes around, we’ll all probably have that many more again.

The response after the session and for the next three days was wonderfully overwhelming. Thank you to everyone who tweeted during the session, blogged (Nigel Danson, Steve Radick, Cecil Dijoux) and wrote articles (SearchCRM, CMSWire, IT Knowledge Exchange), came up and talked to me about it and referred to the session in subsequent sessions. I wish I could thank you all individually. I am truly humbled by the response.

So please join us. The more perspectives we get each week, the more we can learn from each other and be better we will be at what we all love to do. I hope to learn from you next Tuesday with the first failure!  (I promise the posts won’t be nearly as long 😉