Monday, October 21, 2013

Have You Written a Failure Resume?

IDEO's David and Tom Kelley have featured an interesting concept called the failure resume in their new book, Creative Confidence.  The idea comes from Stanford professor and creativity expert Tina Seelig.  The Kelley brothers describe one famous example of a failure resume - the "anti-portfolio" of the highly successful venture capital firm, Bessemer Venture Partners.   Here's an excerpt, reprinted by Fast Company:

Nonetheless, one of our favorite examples of a company owning their failures comes from financial services. Bessemer Venture Partners is a well-respected, 100-year-old venture capital firm that has gotten in on the ground floor of some stellar-growth companies. Their website predictably features their “Top Exits.” What’s refreshing and not so predictable is that one click away from these mega-successes is a catalog of miscues and failed foresight Bessemer calls their “Anti-Portfolio.” As Bessemer explains, their “long and storied history has afforded our firm an unparalleled number of opportunities to completely screw up.” One of their partners passed over a chance to invest in the Series A round of PayPal, which sold a few years later for $1.5 billion. The firm also passed--seven times--on the chance to invest in FedEx, currently worth over $30 billion.

Why would people want to keep a failure resume?   The Kelleys, as well as Professor Seelig, argue that we need to "own" our mistakes if we are to improve and move forward effectively.   Acknowledging mistakes is a crucial first step in the learning process.  Moreover, I would argue that being able to compare those failures the successes on our actual resume is a crucial way that we can identify the drivers of high vs. low performance.   The failure resume also humbles us a bit, and it reminds us of the role that good fortune played in some of our successes, and bad fortune in some of of our failures.  


Rick Crowley said...

Professor Roberto -

I am just getting underway with my Fast Track MBA program at Babson (living in RI I was very close to choosing Bryant, btw) and one of our first assignments is reading Tom Kelley's books, The Ten Faces of Innovation and The Art of Innovation. Those key words, I am happy to say led me to your blog. I appreciate your updates on newer materials, such as Failure Resumes as I can see why they would be so helpful. I will continue to follow you and look for more of your insights.
-Rick Crowley

russconte said...

As someone who interviews and hires people for a living, "failure" is one of the biggest red flags of all. Candidates who do not admit failures in an interview usually have a lot of them in their work history! On the other hand, candidates who are comfortable with their failures and learned from them make some of the best employees.

A failure resume is a wonderful idea, I'll start working on mind - and yes, I have a number of examples I can put on right away! Thanks for bringing this to a wider audience.

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