Learn from your failures

(Do’s and Don’ts to develop a culture of learning)

A nearling is a positive word for something new that was done with the right intentions, which has not (yet) led to the right result.

This article builds on a previous post where I explained the concept of a nearling. Here’s a nice how-to guide to create a culture in your organisation that allows for space to talk about nearlings and stimulate a more entrepreneurial mindset.

Gather in a special place designed for a weekly or monthly nearling ceremony.

Invite the people to stand up (one at a time), and confess a mistake or nearling in front of the crowd.

Let them answer the following 3 questions:

• What did you fail at?

• How did you cope with it?

• What would you do differently?

Celebrate the mistake with a round of applause, or preferably with some drinks.


  • Encourage the most senior leader in the room to admit his or her nearling to start with.
  • Make sure you create a truly safe environment. If at any time any sanctions are made, trust will vanish instantly
  • Create a prize for the best nearling.


  • No blaming and shaming.
  • Do not expect that everyone wants to share their biggest nearlings from the start. Normally, people find it very discomforting to genuinely open up. Don’t force it, be patient and keep building trust.
  • If people repeat the same mistake over and over again, something is wrong. When this happens, it means they are not learning from previous mistakes.

Specific examples how other organisations develop this learning culture.

Create a “Failed Ideas Hall of Fame”

In the same way many companies pay tribute to their most successful launches and achievements, this is your opportunity to create a similar one for product, marketing, sales and innovation failures. It sends a very strong and public message to all employees that failing is OK, and actually welcomed. You can even intersperse other epic failures from history to reinforce the message.

Change KPIs to Reward Risk and Failure

Most KPIs are tied exclusively to productivity, efficiency and boosting the bottom line. However, without incentivizing risk taking and without making allowances for the inevitable outcomes that comes with taking risks (failure), innovation will remain all talk and no action. To truly make trying new things part of the culture, employees must be measured by it. A simple way of doing this is to hold employees accountable for trying a new approach to one of their tasks each quarter.

Fuckup Nights

Fuckup Nights is a global movement to share stories of business and professional failure. It is powered by an event series in 250 cities of 80 countries. Since it began a few years ago, the initiators of the FuckUp Nights have started a research arm called ‘the Failure Institute’, to do research on all the cases shared at the Fuckup Nights to help decision makers make better decisions.

Failing Forward

A growing number of governments are also supporting the mindset that failure doesn’t have to be bad. In Belgium, they have organised the Failing Forward Conference where people got a chance to share and learn from failure stories.