How to Celebrate #Fails

The Paine of Measurement

“You learn more from failure than you ever do from success.”
—IPR Measurement Commission member Sunshine Overkamp

This issue of The Measurement Advisor is a tribute to the value of failure. Or, to put it another way, to how critical it is to learn from “succeeding less well.” It’s one of the best lessons I’ve ever learned, and way too late in life. Given that our mission here is educational, it occurred to me that it might be time that we focused on failure: What causes it? Why do you need to measure it? How can you find value in it?

For years, PR pros, and to a lesser extent communications pros, were terrified to admit failure. I used to ask every client two questions at the beginning of every assignment:

  1. How do you measure success?
  2. How do you measure failure?

The answers to the first were generally pretty robust and interesting. Some of my favorite include:

  • “No resumption of hostilities” (from a NATO public affairs officer in Kosovo),
  • “How many people are convinced to stop smoking,” and
  • The classic, “How many tissues people use while watching my video.”

The second question was always more challenging. My favorite answer was, “How long it takes the CEO to come down to my office and scream at me.” But mostly people told me that nothing ever failed because failure isn’t acceptable. Which is of course ridiculous.

What have you learned today from failure?

First of all, if failure isn’t tolerated, the organizational culture doesn’t allow for experimentation and innovation. It also doesn’t encourage people to admit mistakes. Back in the days when I was running The Delahaye Group we took the concept to an institutional level and created the Mistake of the Month. In the monthly all-staff meeting we would nominate individuals who made the mistake from which we’d learned the most. We’d all vote and whoever won would get to use a special parking place next to the building. (If you’ve ever tried to park in downtown Portsmouth, NH, you’d know how priceless that honor was. )

Mistake of the Month seemed totally peculiar to new staffers. But after you’d been there awhile you realized that it guaranteed that there was never a mistake we couldn’t learn from and improve our processes.

Secondly, no effort achieves 100% success 100% of the time, so clearly some things succeed less well than others. If you don’t look at the worst performing scenarios you will be doomed to repeat them.

So my advice is to embrace your failures; use them to take control of your future. Next time you “fail”, pick yourself up and dust yourself off, then take a good look at your data and your disappointments. Figure out what you can learn from them, and do better next time.

In this issue: Fail, Learn, Improve

We start this issue by sharing some of our favorite #FAILs with you. After 30+ years of measuring failures and successes, as you might imagine, I have a few stories to tell. You can read some of them in: “Real Life Lessons Prove Why You Really Want to Measure Failure.”

In the same learn-from-failure vein, we have a guest post from David McKenzie, a lead economist at the World Bank: “Lessons from Some of My Evaluation Failures: Part 1 of ?

A serious fail in the news right now comes to us from Samsung, and we explore it in: “Is Samsung’s Own PR Killing Its Reputation?

Editor Bill Paarlberg looks at the personal stigma of failure, why it leads to measurement resistance, and ideas on how to fix it: “Failure Wouldn’t Be So Bad if We Didn’t Take It Personally.”

Norman Vincent Peale said,“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” If that rings a bell for you, then Daphne Gray-Grant’s column this month will show you how to make opportunities from your feelings of failure: “7 Tips on How to Handle Criticism of Your Writing.”

We know that you, dear readers, enjoy our how-to articles. And so we’ve got a couple this month on how to avoid common measurement failures. “Implementing a Measurement Dashboard? 4 Failure-Prone Situations to Avoid” will help any of you considering beginning a dashboard program. Increasingly, I’m getting asked the question: “Why aren’t my messages getting through?” We answer that in: “7 Reasons Why Your Messages Fail, and How to Fix Them.”

For fans of our MeasHERment Interview series, we are proud to present a guest post from Man Bites Dog CEO Claire Mason: “Promoting Say Equality: The Role of PR in Closing the Gender Say Gap.”

And of course as always we have the Measurement Maven (Visit Philly) and Menaces (people who thing EMV is real money) of the Month.

So jump in, embrace the concept of learning from your failures, and I promise your programs will improve.

Happy measurement,

About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.