Have a Failure Resume

January 10, 2019

We learn so much more from our failures than our mistakes. One of my favorite questions when interviewing someone is to ask them about their biggest professional failure. Whatever the answer, it's something a person has become sensitive to and likely won't do again. 

 

Actually, for me, these sensitivities also come from watching people around me have these professional car crash moments. Early in my career, a colleague was emailing journalists and misspelled the CEO's name. One of the journalists knew the CEO and said something. It trickled back to our office, my colleague was asked about it, lied and was fired. I have become especially sensitive to both double checking the spelling of names as well as just owning my mistakes. 

 

Another colleague put in the wrong date and time stamp for issuing a press release for a public company, because she was reversing the way the U.K. writes a date and time (day, month, year and a 24-hour clock) and the standard U.S. format (month, day, year with a 12-hour clock). Is 2/1/2019 Feb. 1 or Jan.2? In every possible instance I write out the name of the month, and I don't rely on a number. 

 

Some might call these small mistakes, but when one loses their job it does not feel like a "small" mistake.

 

There is a wonderful concept of a Failure Resume. One of the earliest (or the earliest one) was written by a scientist, and we want scientists to fail in order to prove something to be true. So, it feels natural in that environment. But it's also so relevant in marketing. And like I learned not only from my own failures, it's incredibly valuable when marketers share where they've failed, so we can the initial thinking and then where it wasn't complete. Here's one supremely helpful example from the much-admired Neil Patel:

 

7 Marketing Mistakes That Nearly Broke Me… Literally

 

Other examples of people and organizations owning up to their "mistakes":

- Bessemer Venture Partners' Anti-Portfolio - the investments they passed on, only to miss big time wins.

- Nina Jacobson studio executive, producer, and hit-maker (recently of "Crazy Rich Asians") discusses her failure resume on the podcast "Without Fail"

- Issued in a very traditional format - this CV of Failures

- Bloomberg's "Jealousy List" - articles they wish they'd written. 

 

The top of my personal failure resume is "failing" because of very poor corporate culture fit in instances where I could and should have done more research on my end to ensure I was going to be in a supportive environment that as a whole valued my skills and knowledge. (For example, one CMO - who was not the person who hired me - said "We are not a data-driven organization" taking away value of everything I brought to the table.) I was so excited about the black and white job description on paper that I just didn't investigate who was running things and how current employees view the organization.

 

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