We love to talk about our success stories. But when we fail, we would rather keep it to ourselves. The Failure Tales event is intended to help change this attitude within the Swiss Post Group and to promote openness, transparency and courage. It is designed to help transform fear of failure into a learning culture by having employees talk about projects that were discontinued or suffered setbacks, as well as ideas that nobody else believes in. Alice Dal Fuoco, Innovation Manager for VNTR at PostFinance, was brave enough to describe her own experiences.
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Failure tales: Challenging the stigma of failure
At the Swiss Post Group’s Failure Tales event, employees present their failures – so that others can learn from them. Alice Dal Fuoco, Innovation Manager for VNTR at PostFinance, also participated in the event.
What failure did you share with other employees at the Failure Tales event?
I talked about the renaming of the PFLab to VNTR – or rather the rocky road to get there. But let’s start at the beginning: as PostFinance’s innovation team, we are bringing more and more projects, products and prototypes onto the market – with the result that PFLab has become increasingly well-known as a brand, which also presents the risk that the label may have been misused by others because it was not trademarked. We wanted to put this right. When the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property raised the objection that we could not protect PFLab in the intended category because part of the term was already trademarked, we were absolutely astonished and quite taken aback. We had spent years cultivating and growing a brand that we could now no longer use externally. Our failure was that we did not consider PFLab as a trademark right from the outset and later started from the incorrect assumption that PFLab could be trademarked. In this sense, the failure was due to a lack of knowledge, as is often the case. Eventually, we managed to get ourselves a new name within the deadline of six weeks – we have since been using VNTR. And what were the lessons learned from the experience? We took the opportunity to achieve the next level of maturity with VNTR.
What benefits do events like Failure Tales provide for participants?
Most of us have been raised to believe that mistakes mean failure. But a mistake is something that you can learn from as you continue to progress. Failure Tales is intended to show that you shouldn’t be afraid of failure. A positive error culture is not about pointing the finger at others for their mistakes, but about working together to come up with solutions and the next development steps. Failure Tales are one of the measures for establishing this mindset when dealing with mistakes and encouraging employees to have the courage to face up to them. This is a skill that needs to be practised – for example, with an appearance at Failure Tales, where a wide range of failures are highlighted – from minor mistakes to entire projects that have been abandoned, across various units.
What are your personal experiences with failure?
I also had my own fear of failure – of making mistakes. But once you’ve failed a few times, for example because you made the wrong assumptions or miscalculated due to a lack of knowledge, you lose your fear of failure. You realize that you can learn from your mistakes and can always move forwards. Personally, I was able to change my own attitude towards dealing with my mistakes. When something doesn’t go as planned, I immediately ask myself what I can do differently, how I can turn things around and approach them in a different way. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should make as many mistakes as possible. But when they do happen, you should accept them, reflect on them and draw the right conclusions – above all, you shouldn’t bury your head in the sand. This is also important for teams: all the mistakes we made in the innovation team got us to where we are now and allowed us to gain a lot of the experience we now rely on.
What preparation tips do you have for people who want to participate in this or a similar event?
The most important thing is to tell your Failure Tale transparently and authentically, without leaving anything out. You should also have reflected well on your failure and be able to show what you’ve learned from it and what you’re taking away for yourself and for others. And if you can add a bit of humour, all the better! After all, we can often laugh about our failures in hindsight.
Alice Dal Fuoco is an Innovation Manager who works at VNTR, Innovation & Venturing by PostFinance.