Success at failcamp

Alex and I ran failcamp fast & loose and it worked. (Alex’s writeup is here.)

Our guiding idea was to discuss failure, in all its guises. We wanted to hold a forum where it was not only OK to admit to not being glossy & perfect, but actually required. We wanted to discuss things practical and philosophical.

And we achieved those ends, so we’re really pleased with how it turned out!

Lots of positive things were said about failure. A number of negative things, too. We talked about how failure had helped us or hurt us, and whether failure is required in life, and whether failure can be avoided. All types of failure were fair game. Lively conversation was had; debates were held; help and advice were given. Everyone opened up and participated at least some.

I’ve learned that running an event is a lot different than writing an essay, giving a talk (even an interactive one) or participating in a roundtable. (This probably sounds obvious, but it’s different when you think you know it, and when you actually experience it.) The event had a life of its own. Alex and I had a vision for how we’d like to guide things, but we didn’t try to force it. It went places we weren’t expecting, which is both frustrating and really cool.

Alex has described the details of the day really well, and I won’t try to duplicate his effort. But I will say that starting off with the anonymous stories in the first half of the day worked really well. Specific stories are a great starting point.

We didn’t return the focus to stories again after lunch and the post-lunch slump combined with the lack of concrete details and resulted in a conversation much more abstract and argumentative.

From then on (thanks to Blake & Christine), we moved to a “current problem / current advice” format—anyone who wanted it had 10 minutes of focus on their current issue. Some of these were delightfully philosophic, others very concrete and businessy.

Things I learned about running this kind of event that would inform/change the way I’d run a second one:

  • start with / focus on something concrete (e.g. specific fail stories)
  • without concrete reference points, the conversation can very easily became too abstract and heated
  • without prompting, a lot of the stories will be about money and business (which is, I think, a barrier to getting to the philosophical heart of the matter of failures)
  • with a group of 20, a moderator is a really good idea; either break into smaller groups or moderate to keep the volume & talking order in check

Things that were amazing and have pleased and inspired me to *no* end:

  • how open, sharing and understanding everyone was
  • how thoughtful people are about their own & others’ situations
  • what great ideas people had for how to steer failcamp back on track & future meetings
  • how successful and—dare I say it?—painless an ad hoc day can be (we’re really pleased how it turned out, & must thank the wonderful participants for this one)
  • holy crap, we made it to 6:30pm (everyone was exhausted by this point, but wow! we never expected it to actually happen)
  • nobody actually complained that I talked too much (other than me)

I’ve got more to say on the topic of failure in general and failcamp in specific, but I’m exhausted.

Major props once again to Tara “Miss Rogue” Hunt, whose idea of LoserCamp spawned our very own failcamp, and who we know attended in spirit.

NB: Want to run your own failcamp? Alex and I are going to work up some materials for anyone who wants to—suggestions of course. It may be a few days, since we’re quite busy, but feel free to contact us thru the Google Group with any questions or announcements!

3 Comments

  1. LEMills says:

    Thanks again to you and Alex for the vision and guts to do this. I’m just sorry that I had to leave in mid day (especially when I had other stories to tell and others to hear). Actually, I should have called in from the road… traffic was most certainly FAIL that afternoon. Where are the "I’d rather be at FailCamp" bumpers tickers when you need them? -Linda

  2. Liz says:

    I really wished I had gone but I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d be glad to help out on one in the NYC area.

    Congratulations on your success!

  3. christine (via limewire) says:

    hi! i miss you :) this event sounded fun, i wish i could’ve been there. good to hear you’re doing well :D

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