My Best Failure, breaking the taboo

Published on Monday, 24 June 2019

The industrial world has finally come to terms with failure. The most efficient and productive teams in the working world are the ones that feel free to explore new avenues and take risks without the fear of being punished for any lack of success that might involve. Failure is no longer taboo, in other words. Modern psychology confirms this fact and the most innovative, well-being-focussed companies all recognise it too. These include Enel, which promotes a no-blame culture and, in 2015, launched the “My Best Failure” project to reward its employees’ most constructive failures.

Although seemingly paradoxical, the project met with great success and was repeated in 2018. Recently, it was also the subject of an interview given by Enel’s Chief Innovability Officer Ernesto Ciorra to the in-house magazine of the European School of Management and Technology (ESMT), the prestigious German institute that Enel is collaborating with on its peer-to-peer learning network, the Sustainable Business Roundtable.

Ciorra himself acknowledged that admitting one’s failures is not easy but added that the Enel project worked because involving top management helped everyone to overcome their reluctance. This latest edition also brought a 75% increase in visits to the failure-sharing computer platform and a 170% jump in the number of comments and votes.

One of the key concepts of the new edition, Ciorra explained, is the difference between failures and mistakes. A failure can be the result of an innovative initiative, the negative outcome of which could not be predicted, while a mistake might be the consequence of avoidable carelessness.

The awards are divided into two categories: Best Innovative Experimentation and Best Lesson Learned. This is a way of inviting employees to see their failures as the result of creative experimentation on the one hand and a way of taking lessons from them on the other.

According to Ciorra the Enel model is ideal for “export” too: “Any company that wants to innovate and adapt to the complex changes going on has to introduce a no-blame culture. Most changes come from the bottom up: if we don’t involve people and allow them to make their own contribution, we are losing out on huge potential. Essentially, people need to be encouraged to try new things, experiment and, if they aren’t successful, recognise the lesson they can learn and share their story. Which is just what we are doing with our My Best Failure platform.”