“From Sinning to Sainthood”; Another Look at Failure.

Posted by jlubans on April 01, 2014

Caption: A NixonMcInnes employee ‘fesses up.

I’ve been meaning to write about the “Church of Fail”, as described in a November 2013 article by Leigh Buchanan.
I’ve delayed because I’ve been uncomfortable with the Church of Fail as yet another hipster mockery of church traditions, something akin to stealing from the “poor box”. Well, I’ve come around to another view, primarily that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” and that even in the business world, “confession (of mistakes) is good for the (corporate) soul.” Consider, if you will, what open confession at places like the Madoff LLC or Enron might have prevented.
Of course, the “Church of Fail” at the NixonMcInnes company, is not a real church – the company avers there’s no insult intended; it’s no sendup.
OK, confession over; now, what does the Church of Fail do?
Simply enough, it offers a “a (monthly) comfort zone where people could confess their mistakes” in a public forum. One of the founder’s says: “the more we fail, the more we can innovate and succeed."
I am on board with that and believe that good things can come from open and accepting discussion of mistakes, large and small. Indeed, each Church of Fail “confession” is met with enthusiastic applause; a form of confirmation, of support. The key, of course, is high trust and respect. If the corporate values and behaviors are in accord with this type of candor, then I can see the organization learning from its mistakes, getting better. NixonMcInnes claims good results from discussing employee screw-ups because "making failure socially acceptable makes us more open and creative.”
(I do wonder if they pass the collection plate at the Church of Fail? Enough to pay for the coffee and donuts? It’d be one measure of the meeting’s effectiveness.)
I‘ve seen other “To-Err-Is-Human” traditions. There’s an annual event in small Guatemalan villages where the sins of the past year are confessed, individually and publicly, and buried. Everyone admits wrong-doing, however egregious, out in the open and often in a fiesta-like setting involving strong drink. It’s a mix of Catholic confession and forgiveness and Mayan let-it-be.
Also, I’ve both led and been part of an activity that charts an
organization’s “Prouds” - accomplishments and achievements - and corporate “Sorries” - mistakes and missed opportunities. Once listed out for public review, the “Sorries” are burned, metaphorically or literally. This process can get the “un-saids” , the “un-stateds”, the undercurrents out in the open for acknowledgement, acceptance and maybe forgiveness. From there, the organization may be able to move on – depending on the level of honesty and forgiveness - in a new direction.
And, at celebrations of the Winter solstice in northern Europe, villagers - often children - drag logs through the ice and snow. The logs are said to be magnets for the anonymous mistakes and transgressions of the past year. At the end, the logs go into a bonfire and there’s much music, dancing, and singing. And, in my native land, Latvia, there’s beer.

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@Copyright John Lubans 2014

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