Last Thursday, the City of The Hague hosted its 4th FuckUpNight (FUN) event. Three speakers had been carefully selected to voice their experiences of failure in academia, business, and the creative industry. This FUN edition was an official part of the European Innovative Enterprise Summit, organized by Innovative Enterprise – Financing Ideas from Europe, and supported by the Municipality of The Hague. Read on to hear more about the insights that were shared.
Usually, people on a stage share how they manage, steer, and build their successes. But our speakers have the courage to stand up and say, “I have failed, and this is what you and I can learn from it”. We believe failing is a crucial part of personal and professional development. And that being open about it creates a space to learn.
Three speakers joined us this past Thursday to share their experiences of failure:
- Menno Pleij, Tech entrepreneur
- Richard Griffiths, Emeritus Professor of Economic History
- Floor Cornelisse, Social designer in Rotterdam
Menno Pleij: “Starting a company is the best education you can get”
After graduation, Menno joined a team of software and hardware developers to develop an integrated lightshow solution for music festivals. The first prototype of a product was launched on Plasa 2009, a tradeshow in London for the light & sound industry. The team won an award for it. The second generation product was used by the Cirque du Soleil on Broadway.
But then the product proved difficult to sell. Each lightshow turned out to require a tailored approach. In this way, each client expected a lot of adjustments to the system, which made them difficult to sell. Eventually, Menno had to file for bankruptcy at the court of The Hague in September 2011, three-and-a-half years after the start of his company.
What were his lessons learned? A very basic one was that it is important to understand how to manage your cash flow effectively. When choosing investors, the best match isn’t always with the ones who have more money. Finally, Menno believes starting a company is the best education he could ever get.
Richard Griffiths: “You can’t undo the past”
Professor Griffiths discussed the failure of Scottish inventor James Watt. This mechanical engineer and chemist started his experiments in the 18th Century, and contrary to what is commonly thought, he did not invent the steam engine.
Watt himself was actually scared of the power of steam. His product was rather a low-powered engine, whose potential suffered from the lack of experimentation. Monopoly, and no miniaturization possible were other factors in its failure.
This led to a 25-year delay in launching a smaller and more powerful steam engine. According to Professor Griffiths, without this misadventure, railways would have been invented 25 years earlier, setting the industrial revolution in motion. This might have led to a fast forward of history, leaving us in the development equivalent of the year 2040.
Does it make sense to look back at history with ‘what-ifs’, he asks. The same goes for our own failures – you can’t undo the past. You can only make new decisions based on the information you have. Professor Griffiths makes an argument for open innovation. He believes that the development of collective projects with a common purpose can drive humanity forward.
Floor Cornelisse: “Identify the difference between the executive and political reality”
Floor’s drive lies in solving the problems of a sector which happens to be in great need of support and dynamism – the literary sector in Rotterdam. She was chair of the board at the time. Taking the initiative led her to stand out from the crowd, a network of 130 parties made of young and older people. She set up joint projects such as a festival that promotes the sector, and creates intergenerational exchange of ideas and experience.
After three years she faced a new political reality. A small group of people did not agree with the strategy, and they undermined her position. While being at a vulnerable stage in her life – she was going through serious health issues which prevented her from getting ahead of the curve and overcome the resistance she encountered from her peers. They ultimately forced her to resign.
Her lessons learned include to follow your intuition, since she did not act upon her gut feeling when accepting these people into the team. She also identifies the difference between the executive and political reality. Getting and maintaining support of the network is just as important as letting your work speak for itself.
One hundred professionals gathered for this event. The Q&A was lively. Personal anecdotes were exchanged between the speakers and the audience. We look forward to our next FuckUpNight, which will take place on May 19th in The Hague.