The Failure Swapshop

Posted by on February 28, 2011 in geeky stuff | 4 comments

The Failure Swapshop

I ran two sessions at #bcbomo3, one on ableton live and the other… The Failure Swapshop

Failure Swapshop moto

My aim for the session was to encourage people to celebrate their failures and share with the group the lessons they learned.

It went a bit like this:

“Hi, my name’s Luke, and I failed” (cue cheers + applause from the crowd)

“I did ___, it failed because of ___ and the lesson I learned was ___”

I kicked off the celebration of failure by talking about a start-up I worked on many years ago that lost its way and failed.

After a slow start, where people needed encouragement at first, the session really got going and more and more people opened up and shared business, personal and technical failures. Some were valuable life lessons, some… well… simply hilarious!

I wrote any lessons learned onto the white board (both sensible + silly):

Failure swapshop whiteboard scribblings

  • Stay on target (Stay focussed)
  • Don’t lie about your abilities (but if you already have, learn the thing you said you could do asap!)
  • Don’t trust:
    • Grown ups
    • Other people’s code
    • Your own code
    • Lotus Notes
    • Consultants
    • Programmers
    • Acronyms
  • Back ups = Good
  • Don’t get distracted by shiny things
  • Don’t think you know it all
  • Check for typos
  • Always check the box contents
  • Try a restart
  • Don’t try to be funny (the story behind this one was BRILLIANT, I won’t recount it here)
  • Don’t expose your dev server to the world
  • Ask for help
  • Failure can become a win

If you’d like to share your failure, please do add a comment below and tell us what happened and most importantly what you learned from your glorious failure.


  1. Hi Luke, what an excellent session, I’m sad I missed it. Thanks for posting it here though as embracing failure is crucial to learning and doing truly great work.

    There’s an awful lot of fear of failure. We need to bring it out into the open and talk about it, hopefully learning from other people’s mistakes, and getting over the fear.

    It would be interesting also to see how these failures were handled, whether people knew things were going wrong, what they did to correct things and how quickly they corrected them. I imagine in most cases the projects turned out not to fail, through unexpected outcomes and new recovery methods.

    If you can embrace failure rather than fearing it, you can start pushing the boundaries and exploring, opening up all kinds of possibilities for new work, new learning and some seriously fun times

  2. Lesson learnt:

    That ‘CC’ on an email really means ‘Consider Carefully’ – CC-ing unnecessary people in on an email is the quickest way to annoy (and fill up the inboxes of) your coworkers, customers and suppliers!

  3. Hey,

    I’ve repeated what I said in the session about why you shouldn’t try to be funny, and also included the entire…offending article.

    Was an entertaining session.

    And if you are going to try to be funny…don’t CC the directors.

  4. I frickin’ love it

    Well done Luke

    Not a clanger!


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