Scott Anderson

Friday Roundup – 3/18/11: Failure IS An Option, but Don’t Fail At Learning

Well meaning as they are, I’ve often considered participation trophies the shortest of short-term thinking. Though clearly designed as a way to boost children’s self-esteem in sports or other activities, the ones I received always went right to back of the closet. If everyone gets a trophy just for participating, I thought, what’s the point of a trophy? (And believe me, I had plenty of room for trophies).

Failure – or the lack of it – is the only way to know if you’re any good at something and forces you to move on to something else when you’re not. But somewhere along the way, failure has become like so many participation trophies; it’s grown into meme that has built business guru empires and flooded the speaker/seminar circuit.

Adam Richardson, a creative director at global innovation firm frog design, advises that we shouldn’t “fetishize” failure. He strikes the appropriate balance on the subject in a piece for the Harvard Business Review, whose latest issue is focused on failure. Richardson notes (emphasis included):

“The only way that failure becomes useful is if you learn from it. If you keep failing and fail to learn, then you really have failed. If you fail repeatedly but increase your knowledge with each dead end and can put that knowledge to work in the next round, then you are succeeding. What we need to fetishize when innovating and taking risks, therefore, is learning.”

While the piece is not directed at our space specifically, it does a great job of leveling the question: What has our sector learned from our failures and how are we applying them to future projects?

International Impact Investing Challenge

I don’t think there will be participation trophies, but teams from a dozen MBA programs will be competing for more than $40,000 in awards the 2011 International Impact Investing Challenge next month. Cornell University’s Graduate School of Management and the Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management are managing the competition, which will involve a dozen student teams from various universities pitching investment strategies that combat social challenges to a panel of experienced investors, as well as managers for family foundations, pension funds and university endowments.

“This competition is exciting and unique because it challenges MBAs to think about how we employ capital so that competitive investment returns flow from the value created by solving our biggest problems – poverty, climate change, ecosystem degradation – with innovation and entrepreneurship,” Mark Milstein, the director for Cornell’s Johnson’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise, said in a press release.

The competition is set for April 8 at J.P. Morgan in New York.

Acumen East Africa Fellows Program

In what will be the first in a series of Regional Fellows Programs, Acumen Fund announced it is launching its East Africa Fellows Program. Acumen is seeking East African candidates with backgrounds in leadership and business, as well as a CV that includes experience with large-scale social impact projects in the region. Applications will be accepted until 11:59 PM (East Africa Time) on Friday, April 15. Applicants are required to apply online.

London in Mumbai

Just a reminder that Ted London, senior research Fellow at the William Davidson Institute and a member of the faculty at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, will be in Mumbai, India next week. He will discuss the book, Next Generation Business Strategies With the Base of the Pyramid, which he co-edited with Stuart Hart. The book discussion and open house will take place from 6:30 PM-8:30 PM, March 22, at the Bombay HUB, Bandra West UnLtd India, 4th Floor, Candelar Building. For more information, visit the event’s Facebook page.

A Note on Japan

It feels much longer than just a single week since the earthquake and tsunami brought vast devastation to Japan. The painful human toll continues to grow and the humanitarian mission is only beginning. At the same time, Japan is the world’s No. 3 economy and does not face the same structural challenges as BoP markets, such as Haiti or Pakistan following their natural disasters last year. Still, Forbes’ Elmira Bayrasli, interestingly blogged about a few Japanese social entrepreneurs who leveraged social networks to assist in the rescue efforts. These enterprising individuals were beacons of hope and action. They also could represent a microcosm of what Japan needs going forward – not only to recover from this disaster – but from its nearly two-decade economic slide.

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