One Key Takeaway From the G7/I7

For the next few blogs, I probably will be blogging about the G7/I7 meeting that I attended in Italy.  The reason is it was interesting to meet people focused on innovation from around the world and hear their ideas and challenges.  Blogging helps me unpack and coordinate it in my brain so I can benefit from it and hopefully take some positive action.  Here is a statement from the G7.  It’s very interesting reading.  Of course, the devil is in the details.

To give you some background, this is the first time in history that they have done this with the G7.  It was the brainchild of  Diego Piacentini.  Diego is a super nice guy.  Very creative too.  He is on leave from Amazon to work for the Italian government because he is passionate about helping his country.  He talked briefly about some of the steps he is taking, and he’s making slow but sure progress.

Another very innovative thing the Italians did was generate a 100% artificial intelligence-driven, machine learning-driven prior to the conclusion of our meeting so we could compare our findings with the findings of a machine.  More on that in another blog if they release both statements.

I strongly believe that we can’t think of technological innovation as an army of White Walkers looking to kill as many jobs as it can.  We need to partner with innovation to create a better standard of living for all of humanity.  We have always done that in the past and I believe we will in the future.  Looking at technology from a negative mindset can fan fear and terrorize your mind.

One of the things that interest me is the perception of failure within a community. If a community isn’t resilient, it’s impossible to have entrepreneurship flourish there.  Failure can be a scarlet letter.

I asked each person that I interacted with about failure and how it is perceived inside their countries.  Remember, these are innovators that I worked with, not policy wonks.  Each of them said there was a stigma around failure.

The responses varied from shame to ridicule.  But, the after-effects of having failed put up a high enough barrier that an entrepreneur had to really consider it before they tried.  This is a hidden opportunity cost buried inside the go/no-go decision of becoming an entrepreneur.  It is also an artificial cost since if society were to change the way they viewed failure, the cost goes away.

I feel that this is really important.

How do we solve for it?

First, the simple recognition that it exists helps us work on it.  Next, it’s very important for political leaders to talk about failure and educate their countries that it is okay to try.  Start to change the conversation around failure.  It’s also important for business leaders to follow suit and do the same. Business leaders can take steps to initiate a change inside their companies.

The next level is in the classroom. Teaching about failure and talking about it in a non-threatening way helps students understand it’s okay to take a risk.  One idea we had in our session was to design science experiments to fail. A student would go through the procedure, fail, then have to figure out where it went wrong and try and fix the procedure so the experiment worked.  Active learning vs passive learning.

Participation in athletics can teach you about failure if coaches are educated to talk about it correctly.

In geographical areas where failure isn’t a black mark against the rest of your career, innovation flourishes.  It is one of the hallmarks of Silicon Valley and I don’t think it can be talked about enough.  One of the hardest things in Chicago about building a startup community was showing staid, conservative Midwesterners that it was okay to fail.

Governments can spend billions of dollars on all kinds of innovation initiatives.  Until they change the stigma and conversation around failure so that it’s healthy rather than negative sounding the money will mostly be wasted.


  • Seph

    “Culture is upstream from politics.” or “Politics is downstream from culture.” I think that you are right to note the influence of culture regarding perception of failure. The challenge then is how to nudge cultural responses to failure, which ought to influence ‘downstream’ policy decisions. A worthy task, but no small one.