Learning to fail @ ACT/IAC’s Management of Change

Earlier today, at ACT/IAC’s Management of Change conference in Norfolk, VA, lunch featured NYU adjuct professor Clay Shirky. With two of my recent posts on my personal blog — DCSpring21 — referencing his thoughts and ideas, I’ll admit a certain sense of pride knowing more about the speaker’s thoughts and leanings on “new media” than what ACT/IAC presented in his bio.

While I gave some thought to tweeting out the salient points of his remarks, I decided to scribble down his ideas and put up this post when I had a few minutes of quiet. His message — that media of all forms has become a site/source for communication, not just information — provides the backdrop for his new book: Here Comes Everybody. With the internet “natively good” at group communication, he summed up his latest work with these five words: “group action just got easier.”

Tracing the roots of our current media revolution to the advent of movable type and the printing press, he cautioned a room full of government techy-types that we all need to get used to the idea that the 21st century media landscape is one of individual-to-individual communication, with or without an organization’s involvement. He declared that the days of media, created and controlled by professionals, expired with the rise of amateur, individual, and citizen-driven blogs, wikis, tweets, groups, etc. Whereas a scarcity of messaging once locked-in a “loyal” audience, he reasoned that with so many potential sources of information now available on myriad topics and trends, people gravitate towards a quality and clarity of messaging above all else.

To this final point he issued something of a challenge: when it comes to utilizing the media — be it social or “traditional,” we need to try new things. Further, we (both as individuals and organizations) should not try to avoid failure by postponing our ideas; rather, plant as many seeds of change as possible, and constructively learn from what flourishes. Drawing a parallel to John Fitch and the first steamboat (actually his 4th design), he pushed the crowd to understand that informative failure — that is, learning from the parts that don’t work, while incorporating the parts that do — is essential for organizations to keep/engage their constituency.

[*This post also runs on today’s DCSpring21]

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Cary Casey

Great synopsis of excellent guidance in this transition to open, transparent communication. We’ve been planting some seeds today as well. 😉


I like the reminder of the need to failure. It always makes sense but it’s hard to implement – it would be interesting to highlight an organization that successfully got people to embrace and chase failure as the only way to succeed.