Has anyone ever told you “it’s okay to fail” or “failures are the pathway to success”? My guess is yes. It’s pretty common rhetoric these days to hear the advice to admit failure. Which is why, when I went to read this article, I was skeptical about reading much that was new. I was wrong. As she does often, Colleen approaches her topic with fresh eyes and new arguments. In Cultural Organizations: It Is Time to Get Real About Failures, Colleen spends more time questioning how, to whom, and when, museums admit failure than she spends discussing the benefits of admitting failures in general. Riddled with hard data to back up her thoughts, the article confronts readers with challenging questions to ask themselves and their institutions when talking about failure:
- Are all ‘successes’ presented at conferences really successes or are some “mediocre outcomes” masked as successes? Who might we be trying to impress by making something look more successful than it really was?
- What failures do we admit and which do we still hide from view?
- Whose responsibility is it to call out failures? Where is the line between calling out and shaming fellow institutions?
- Are failures that are shared actually helping others in the field? What can we do better to prevent colleagues from making the same mistakes?
- How can we turn the focus of admitting failures from us to those it would help?