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Celebrate failure

Number: 
6
Cuban permaculture activist Roberto Perez being interviewed outside a site in Totnes

Challenge

Are we really to imagine that everything we attempt will work fantastically well, or might there be something to be learned from accepting that part of taking risks and being adventurous is that some things will fail, and that’s OK?

Description

H. L. Mencken once famously said “There is always an easy solution to every human problem – neat, plausible and wrong.” For much of what a Transition initiative does there are no easy solutions. There is often no way of knowing whether a project will succeed. We live in a risk-averse culture, nervous about experimenting and looking ridiculous...

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Solution

Celebrate your initiative’s failures as much as its successes, seeing your work as research that will be valuable to subsequent initiatives. Use Transition Network to share the stories of things that didn’t work out as you had hoped.

Full description

H. L. Mencken once famously said “There is always an easy solution to every human problem – neat, plausible and wrong.” For much of what a Transition initiative does there are no easy solutions. There is often no way of knowing whether a project will succeed. We live in a risk-averse culture, nervous about experimenting and looking ridiculous. However, it is only through experiment that we learn and develop new models. If Transition initiatives never talk about their failures, they will not learn from them.

One example of this was Transition Oxford. After about 18 months of meeting and awareness raising, the Core Group decided to put the initiative into what they hoped was ‘temporary hibernation’. However, rather than that being the end of story, each member of the group shared with Transition Culture their thoughts about why things hadn’t worked out. Among their observations were the following:

  • A perception that their Core Group was closed to new members, leading to their becoming a bit ossified.
  • The Core Group found itself looking to the wider group to say what they wanted to take the initiative on, and the wider group looked to the Core Group for leadership.
  • Not enough was done to work with existing groups.
  • There was not enough in place to support those carrying the initiative, nor were those people good at asking for support.
  • Some members of the Core Group felt overawed by their companions. As one person put it, “I felt I’d landed by accident in a group of experts.”
  • Little time was given to assessing how the project was doing.
  • For some, Core Group meetings were not enjoyable. In spite of enthusiasm for Transition, enthusiasm for going to meetings began to ebb away.

These are valuable lessons for other initiatives, and we hope Transition Oxford might yet revive. The main point is that it is important to value projects that fail as much as those that succeed. What Transition does is provide a creative spark, a pulse, an invitation for people to get the transition to a low-carbon world under way where they live. It invites people to dare to try; to jump and see what happens. They also need the right tools, the ability to work together and the support of the wider project. However, everyone involved in Transition needs to know that people will be applauded for taking risks, even when they go wrong.
 

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