Sharing lessons learned, and dealing with scrutiny of failure

By Steve Outing

It’s been an odd week for me. After my business partner and I decided to shut down our small company, the Enthusiast Group, I decided to be open and transparent about what happened. Following the lead of Judy’s Book founder Andy Sacks, I’ve blogged and written a column about what we learned about grassroots and social media from the humbling experience of presiding over a failed company trying to succeed in that space.

The Editor & Publisher Online column got a lot of attention; I’m pretty sure it’s seen more write-ups and blog mentions than any other column I’ve written.

For the most part, I’m glad to be sharing what we learned. I did it because I felt strongly that we learned some lessons that others in the media business needed to hear. Perhaps I’ve caused some business plans involving grassroots and social media to be tweaked to avoid the problems we encountered.

Most of the folks who blogged about my column seemed to get my message, though there were some that I disagreed with. Then there was this oddball one by Tom Abate, comparing me to Dilbert creator Scott Adams…

Abate makes some interesting points, but I didn’t “fail at blogging”; the Enthusiast Group was a niche grassroots content and social networking play. I blog here and occasionally on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits. Neither of those efforts make me money, but I don’t think I’m a failed blogger. :)

But that word, “failure,” is what makes the week “odd,” or maybe disconcerting is a better word. Many of the posts about me this week were supportive of our efforts at the Enthusiast Group. Some particularly good write-ups can be found by Robert Niles for Online Journalism Review, Dan Pacheco and Jeremy Wagstaff.

Some of the headlines, I must admit, were a bit hard to take:

Ouch. Well, I suspect in the long run that talking about this publicly will be a good thing.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!

8 Responses to "Sharing lessons learned, and dealing with scrutiny of failure"

  1. tom abate
    tom abate 9 years ago .Reply

    Steve, thanks for noticing my “odd” post, and I fully accept the label as I do realize that my comparison of your new media startup to Scott’s blog was an apples-to-kiwis comparison.

    I also appreciate that you made some effort to understand the method behind my madness. At very least I hope it gave you a laugh.

  2. tom abate
    tom abate 9 years ago .Reply

    Steve, thanks for noticing my "odd" post, and I fully accept the label as I do realize that my comparison of your new media startup to Scott's blog was an apples-to-kiwis comparison. I also appreciate that you made some effort to understand the method behind my madness. At very least I hope it gave you a laugh.

  3. Jill
    Jill 9 years ago .Reply

    Steve – I’m also a member of the “others call it a failure but I would never use that word” club too. I’m one of the four bloggers who woked on the Plain Dealer’s Wide Open political blog through the end of October (you can read more about it on Poynter or E & P).

    I don’t think I’m a failure or the Wide Open experiment was a “failure” – it actually, in its short time, accomplished and was accomplishing pretty much every thing its creator at the PD had hoped it would. There’s also no question that I see many more opportunities around me, now, than I did before, specifically because of the Wide Open effort. I just can’t rationalize calling that result or causal connection a “failure.”

    May our next “failures” teach us as much as these have.

  4. Jill
    Jill 9 years ago .Reply

    Steve – I'm also a member of the "others call it a failure but I would never use that word" club too. I'm one of the four bloggers who woked on the Plain Dealer's Wide Open political blog through the end of October (you can read more about it on Poynter or E & P). I don't think I'm a failure or the Wide Open experiment was a "failure" – it actually, in its short time, accomplished and was accomplishing pretty much every thing its creator at the PD had hoped it would. There's also no question that I see many more opportunities around me, now, than I did before, specifically because of the Wide Open effort. I just can't rationalize calling that result or causal connection a "failure." May our next "failures" teach us as much as these have.

  5. Dan Pacheco
    Dan Pacheco 9 years ago .Reply

    Personally I think media organizations (and individuals) need to try more and “fail” faster. There is a scientific method to innovation. If you don’t fail occasionally you’re not trying hard enough.

    I also think a lot of traditional companies are taking the slow and steady path at their peril. Many are starting to realize that as the economy flatlines, and revenues and circulation go down at an astonishing rate. Perhaps worst of all, there are signs of some companies hunkering down and focusing even more on traditional stuff and less on new models. That’s a recipe for disaster.

    Keep on trying and occasionally failing! Eventually you will succeed. You probably don’t even know what “success” means yet. None of us do. That’s the point. If you wanted to be successful all the time you’d be doing something steady like selling insurance, real estate or mortgages. (Oh wait a minute, they’re “failing” too!)

  6. Dan Pacheco
    Dan Pacheco 9 years ago .Reply

    Personally I think media organizations (and individuals) need to try more and "fail" faster. There is a scientific method to innovation. If you don't fail occasionally you're not trying hard enough. I also think a lot of traditional companies are taking the slow and steady path at their peril. Many are starting to realize that as the economy flatlines, and revenues and circulation go down at an astonishing rate. Perhaps worst of all, there are signs of some companies hunkering down and focusing even more on traditional stuff and less on new models. That's a recipe for disaster. Keep on trying and occasionally failing! Eventually you will succeed. You probably don't even know what "success" means yet. None of us do. That's the point. If you wanted to be successful all the time you'd be doing something steady like selling insurance, real estate or mortgages. (Oh wait a minute, they're "failing" too!)

  7. Retty
    Retty 9 years ago .Reply

    I like Dan Pacheco’s comment.
    I heard from Dan Gillmor when I met him in Seoul more about citizen journalism. He also mentioned it as an experiment. I’ve read your column, there you are also using the same word “an experiment”.

    As a citizen I’m willing to join in this experiment. I’ve got to try very hard to have a balance life. But hopefully it would not worth nothing. It is a process…that’s all!

    You’ve successfully echoes the voices of the citizen (although you did not like the term citizen)…so globally it won’t die.

    In Indonesian proverb we do have a saying “mati satu tumbuh seribu”…so one is dead, thousand will emerge!

  8. Retty
    Retty 9 years ago .Reply

    I like Dan Pacheco's comment. I heard from Dan Gillmor when I met him in Seoul more about citizen journalism. He also mentioned it as an experiment. I've read your column, there you are also using the same word "an experiment". As a citizen I'm willing to join in this experiment. I've got to try very hard to have a balance life. But hopefully it would not worth nothing. It is a process…that's all! You've successfully echoes the voices of the citizen (although you did not like the term citizen)…so globally it won't die. In Indonesian proverb we do have a saying "mati satu tumbuh seribu"…so one is dead, thousand will emerge!

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