The Benefits of Failure

Reflect | Analyze | Plan

Moving the Needle, a 10-year strategic plan that the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (WRF) launched under the guidance of new President and CEO Dr. Sherece West-Scantlebury in fall 2008, was the catalyst for a decade of difference in Arkansas.

Not everything we tried over the last 10 years has worked. In fact, it is safe to say that almost nothing has worked exactly as we thought it would. Still, we can quantify significant positive changes resulting from many of the Foundation’s investments. Some of our strategies and grants have resulted in what can only be called failures, while others yielded unexpected positive outcomes when failure forced us to take a different path. In both cases, we learned something and continued to refine, expand, and extend our ideas every year. And along the way, we have learned to embrace failure with the same vigor that we have embraced success. 

As you’ll see in Looking Back, Failing Forward, we have stumbled as much as we have sprinted on our path toward making the Moving the Needle goals a reality.

Each section in this report examines our stumbles, failures, and unexpected outcomes in a key area of the Moving the Needle strategic plan. Our greatest lesson is that we need to DIVE into failure because it is:

DESIRABLE. To succeed at something the first time you try it probably means you have not set the bar high enough.

INEVITABLE. If you try something more than once and are pushing to improve, you will inevitably fail and begin to doubt yourself. The Foundation accepted the inevitabilities of failure as the partial price for success.

VALUABLE. The return on investment for failure is valuable in both tangible and intangible ways.

EXCITING. Too often, philanthropy tends to be a series of “safe” investments. If you are serious about realizing your vision without fearing failure, you will generate new excitement that comes from criticism and questions as you push forward.

Moving the Needle also has taught us that to unflinchingly embrace failure, we need:

  1. Courage to accept unanticipated outcomes.
  2. Commitment to apply what we learn to the next idea.
  3. Collaboration to share the risk and reap the rewards of new learning with the right partners.

So what are you waiting for? Join us as we DIVE into our failures and see how we have learned and grown from those setbacks.


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Our Moving the Needle story doesn't end here. We invite you to read Looking Back, Failing Forward to join us as we examine lessons from our failures and continue to make progress toward our founder's vision of a thriving and prosperous Arkansas that benefits all Arkansans