Failure Does Not Equal Humiliation

CEO of Local Motors John Rogers said “We make you feel wanted and we make you feel knowledgeable.” today while talking about how they treat their customers. James Archer brought up “On making people feel knowledgeable, I’ve often wondered about the “fail culture” at GP. Humiliation leads to not trying?”

My response is that a community is fundamentally broken if it equates failure to humiliation.  A truly collaborative and innovative community sees the act of trying the impossible and the journey of getting there as thing to be proud about.  The resulting success or failure is merely a by product of that journey.  Gangplank is not encouraging people to fail.  It is encouraging people to try things beyond their comfort level.  Be Dangerous.  We talk about failure because it is important that we have a culture where it is OK to fail.  That if you try and fail you will not be shunned, ridiculed or humiliated.  Instead you will be picked up, dusted off and sent back to try again.

We need to find the sweet spot between supportive and cheer leading.


  1. Good post. Definitely gives me some food for thought. There are lots of changing coming in my professional world – so this post was on point. Thanks Derek.

  2. You’re quite right, and I think there is another sweet spot on the other side between razzing and humiliation.

    The difference between good natured ribbing and biting snark is sometimes only found in the eye of the beholder. If a community is seen as being harsh on things that objectively or subjectively fail, it can curtail risk taking.

    Ganplank is fortunate to have people like you and James that ask these questions about the community’s impact, and that it isn’t just sink or swim for everyone.

  3. The part of that quote that I found really profound was “we make you feel knowledgeable.” How does that work, exactly? I just find that concept really interesting, and it certainly makes an important contrast to the idea of the “fail culture.”

  4. Having met up with John and the Local Motors team a couple of times prior to their moving to the valley, I feel fairly confident in addressing Andrew’s question of how they make their customers feel knowledgeable.

    Buying a Rally Fighter means more than signing loan papers and driving off the lot. Local Motors customers take part in the assembly of their vehicles. I’m sure some sub-assemblies will be pre-manufactured in order to provide the convenience of a one-week build, but at the end of that week, LM customers drive off the lot in a Rally Fighter they put together with their own hands alongside experts. Welcome to the flight line.

    Maybe Rally Fighter buyers won’t know how to assemble the direct-injected, turbo-diesel BMW engine under the slick, forward opening cowl, but they will likely be there when that engine is bolted to the chassis and have a Local Motors expert there to explain all the various components and their functions. If you ask me, Local Motors will make their customers feel knowledgeable primarily because, upon completing the assembly of their own Rally Fighter, they will actually BE knowledgeable.

    People have to be allowed the opportunity to fall down without being mocked or humiliated and Local Motors exemplifies this. Had Sangho Kim found the Local Motors design community to be cold and ruthless, he might never have bothered trying to share the sketch which went on to become the Rally Fighter no doubt parked at Gangplank earlier this week.

    I can’t express how excited I am to have Local Motors in Phoenix. You want to see trust, collaboration, excellence? Start hanging out with Jay and the gang. I gotta tell ya, it’s damn contagious.

  5. Regarding helping people to feel knowledgeable, a lot of it just comes to down to talking to them as if they *are* knowledgeable (which in many cases they are).

    If I try something and it doesn’t work, having a dozen people calling out “Fail!” and “You’re doing it wrong!” and “I hate what you did with this” and “That was really stupid,” I invariably just feel lousy and want to get away from those people. (I have enough experience with these situations to know how to keep moving forward regardless, but many people don’t, and I’ve seen a lot of people crumble under that kind of commentary.)

    It’s verbal abuse. It’s the same stuff that warps kids brains when their parents say it. If a person just keeps hearing about their failures, they begin to think of themselves as a failure machine, and they move to the next step of just figuring out ways to minimize their humiliation (e.g., by not trying, and by not letting people see what they’re doing).

    However, if your response is to assume that the person has enough brains to already realize that what they’re doing isn’t working, and move forward to figuring out how *else* you can help, it’s a lot more encouraging and productive. If someone burns their finger in a fire, calling them out for being a stupid finger-fire-poker doesn’t contribute anything valuable. They already know it’s a bad idea, and they’re just trying to figure out how to recover.

    There’s a perception in fail culture that the failer should just suck it up and accept the “constructive criticism,” and that calling them out is an act of love that’s supposed to toughen them up, but I’ve been watching it for a long time in a variety of contexts, and I just don’t see that happening. Instead, I see people leave, or at least stop rocking the boat; and either one of those is a shame.

  6. The part of that quote that I found really profound was “we make you feel knowledgeable.” How does that work, exactly? I just find that concept really interesting, and it certainly makes an important contrast to the idea of the “fail culture.”

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