The Positive Side of Failure

September 14, 2017

Coopersmith, Danner explore how failure can help in new book

Failure. It’s not something people like to talk about, but University of California, Berkeley Entrepreneurship Professors are putting failure to good use in their new book, “The Other ‘F’ Word: How Smart Leaders, Teams, and Entrepreneurs Put Failure to Work.”
“We wanted to create a strategic resource, to help people move failure from a regrettable event to a valuable source of innovation, growth, and more engaged employees,” says co-author Mark Coopersmith, Managing Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies’ Learn2Launch entrepreneurship and innovation program.
Coopersmith and Lester Center for Entrepreneurship Senior Fellow John Danner began using the concept of learning from failure and strategically putting those lessons into practice in their coursework in the innovation and entrepreneurship program at the Haas School of Business. They expanded their audience and presented it at a number of talks to Cal alumni.
While the response was positive to the information, lecture attendees expressed concerns about how they might best be able bring the failure conversation to their workplace. It was a challenge Danner and Coopersmith accepted, and they began work on a book that would respect the inevitability of failure, talk about it openly without shame, learn from it, and apply its lessons.
“We took a look at books and material out there and found a lack of those that have failure as part of the language,” says Danner.  “When it was mentioned, it was ‘I failed, but then I persevered and succeeded.’ We felt the conversation needed to be deeper.”
For the book, Danner and Coopersmith spoke with successful figures in the business world who were interested and eager to talk about their failures and what they learned from failure, about taking risks and the strategic lessons that came out of their failures.
“Failure is the fundamental price of admission to success,” says Danner.
They selected more than 60 examples for their new book, and built on those conversations, examples and lessons by examining the facts and facets of failure, how failure appears at different organizational phases, and, based on patterns they observed in those leaders and organizations that had a more productive relationship with the other f word, developed a seven-stage Failure Value Cycle.   
The Failure Value Cycle framework helps leaders and organizations avoid failure in the first place, recognize it earlier, deal with it better when it happens, and leverage it to drive stronger performance, turning failure from a regret to a strategic resource.
As failure, in one form or another, is inevitable, Coopersmith and Danner also incorporated their research on companies named in the “Great Places to Work” lists to see where failure/turmoil did not end in company failure and sometimes was even catalytic.
The book also can be used as a resource tool. Coopersmith and Danner created a Failure Report Card, a series of questions for various organizational phases that helps readers determine how they are doing and how they can take steps to correct the path, if needed.
The Other ‘F’ Word,” which has been adopted as a textbook for several entrepreneurial courses and has earned widespread praise throughout the business community, including Walter Isaacson, President, Aspen Institute, former Chairman/CEO, CNN.
"Great innovators don't fear failure. They build on it. In this pragmatic guide, Danner and Coopersmith tell you how to think about failure in a positive way—and use it to create value,” says Isaacson.