Like most CEOs, Jeff Stibel has made his share of mistakes. But unlike most of his peers, he decided to memorialize his failures in writing.
Two years ago, Stibel turned an office wall into a whiteboard to jot notes. Stibel, chairman and chief executive of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp., began by scribbling quotes from famous figures on the theme of failure. Then he described his own failures as well.
Within days, employees entering his office could read all about failure. Some of them were inspired to write their own mishaps on what soon became known as the “failure wall.”
Reflecting on the experience of jotting failures for all to see, Stibel learned valuable lessons:
√ Effective leaders make it safe to admit mistakes. By writing his failures on the wall, Stibel established a bold precedent. Employees realized they operated in an environment where it was safe to acknowledge their blunders.
As soon as a few employees confessed their failures on the wall, others followed suit. From then on, “the growth was exponential rather than linear,” Stibel says.
√ Errors fade over time. People used markers to write their failures. After a few months, the ink started to fade—and by nine months it disappeared.
For Stibel, the fading messages embodied a larger truth: By admitting failure, you take the first step in advancing beyond it. In time, it no longer stays with you.
But if you refuse to confront it, it can linger. The act of announcing it—by writing it down in this case—helps you learn, grow and move on.
√ Failure loses its stigma when people get used to reading about it. Early on, employees would keep seeing who wrote what on the wall. Now they take it for granted. “It’s just part of the scenery,” Stibel says.
As a result, Stibel and his team can discuss failure openly. When they assess a risky decision, they even joke, “This could end up on the failure wall.”
—Adapted from “Two Years of Failure,” Jeff Stibel, LinkedIn.