Learning to Fail: An Overview of the Utah Library Association Strikethrough Failure Workshop

Lisa Spencer

Lisa Spencer


Last week the Utah Library Association hosted a workshop focusing on failure, providing librarians the ability to gain a new perspective as to what failure is, and how we may learn and grow from our experiences when we fall short. The conference provided wonderful insights on failure as multiple speakers contributed their perspective on what failure is and how to overcome.

Maureen Sullivan, the former American of Library Association President of 2013, spoke on how failure is successful by the individual’s ability to persevere after the shortcoming. Sullivan discussed how we need to adopt a new mindset as to what failure is and how through changing our perspective on failure. The ability to move forward to repair our failures will be more successful. Sullivan also spoke on how individuals who are resilient tend to progress through failure, better than others. If that is the case then how may we become more resilient individuals? Sullivan then described attributes of individuals who master resilience, such as those individuals accept the reality of their mistakes, remain optimistic, are self-aware and mindful to the contribution of a failure being an outcome to action and not a personal label. Sullivan described our need for building mental toughness, and accepting our failures as a learning experience and not as an event that will mark the rest of our work. In conclusion Sullivan advised that failures lead to questions, which always leads to learning and growth.

The remaining conference provided wonderful advice from Edward B. Clark, M.D. (Chair of Department of Pediatrics of the University of Utah and Chief Medical Officer of Primary Children’s Medical Center) who provided a closer look on how failure can come, even when the “I’s have been dotted and the T’s have been crossed.” That no matter how well you have planned, sometimes failure comes.

Jorge Rojas, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts Director of Education, opened our perspective on what failure means for on a personal level and provided ways to overcome our fear of failure, to allow success to be present.

Even our own Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library colleagues had great information on failure. Christy Jarvis, Information Resource Librarian, asked us to think like a scientist. That instead of trying to meet a certain expectation of perfection, to rather think of a project, event, or goal as an experiment process. Where we are able to ask ourselves, “I want to learn if this will work?”

Jean Shipman, Director of the Spencer. S. Eccles Health Sciences Library, presented on a great source where we can capture our failures allowing others to learn from our failures and vice versa. The great tool is e-channel where failures can be posted and viewed for the ability to learn how taking risks and innovated action can helps us to grow professionally.

This conference was a great way to open up about failures and realize that failing is something that must happen in order to better ourselves, our organizations, and our society as a whole.

Below are some great resources and quotes that were presented during the conference.

If you have made mistakes, even serious ones, there is always another chance for you. What we call failure is not the falling down but the staying down.
-Mary Pickford

Perhaps the single best diagnostic to see if an organization is innovating, learning, and capable of turning knowledge into action is, “What happens when they make a mistake?”
-Bob Sutton

The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery
by Sarah Lewis

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
by Carol Dwek

The Failure Issue of the Harvard Business Review (April 2011)

The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything
by Stephen M. R. Covey

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed
by Jon Ronson