Failure, or Information?

Oftentimes, what seems like a failure can be seen in another light, as useful feedback; information.

Following is an example from my professional field, permaculture design.

I am on the organizing committee for a state-wide permaculture event that is shaping up to be possibly not-a-success. It’s looking like we will manage to get enough registrations so at least we won’t end up owing the venue money, but by the true measure of reaching and inspiring people, our event is failing.

Or is it?

Actually I think we are getting valuable information, which can guide us in future events. For example:

– People are getting more locally focused — which I think is a healthy thing. Local and regional events are doing well. (A smaller, regional permaculture event with a higher ticket price, that’s being held a couple weeks before our event, is attracting more registrants than our statewide event.)

– People want convenience and comfort. The smaller regional event is being held at a venue that’s well-known in Florida permaculture circles, and the ticket price includes healthy cooked meals. Our event is on rough rural land, and it’s BYO food. (Both events require camping, which I see as another factor limiting the appeal of permaculture events. Not everyone wants to camp, and besides, permaculture isn’t about camping, or making a human footprint on rough rural land. It’s about optimizing the human-built environment while restoring ecosystem health.)

– And, thinking in a permaculture mode: A state border is an arbitrary political line. For permaculture events, maybe state-wide isn’t the way to go; maybe bioregion is a better fit.

– People want value. (Duh.) I put an announcement out on a big eco-oriented Facebook group (several hundred members) in my local area, offering to pay for five people’s tickets, and got not a single taker. Can’t even give it away? That means I have failed to communicate the value of a permaculture convergence (or even failed to communicate what permaculture is) to people in my local area, and will therefore, yet again, most likely be the only person from my area at this statewide event.

– Quality not quantity! Yeah … this is something I am repeatedly forgetting and having to relearn. I initiated one-on-one conversations with a couple of my fellow organizers and have learned some things I wasn’t aware of. Reasons why this year’s site is actually great for us right now. Also, got reminded that several of the people I most love and respect, personally as well as professionally, are going to be there, and that is enough for me… AND enough to ensure that the event will be worthwhile to anyone in attendance, because these are some first-rate teachers and inspirers!

– Comparison is death. Another one I’m often forgetting and having an opportunity to relearn. Too much peeping into shiny Facebook versions of other people’s achievements (or other movements, other groups, other places) can make a person not even feel she deserves to take up space on the planet, let alone feel she has any business trying to make a difference. And yet, other people’s successes can inspire us to learn and stretch. The best advice I can give is, Know thyself. Learn to recognize the signs of “too much social media”; know when it’s time to gently back off/unplug and simply go about your work, putting one foot in front of the other. I see ants at work, just taking their next step and their next, knowing what they are about, without reference to what others are doing. Same with the beautiful orb-weaving spider building her web outside my studio-office-bedroom door. Working diligently, just being. As humans, we have the opportunity to borrow from and build on one another’s successes. We also have the opportunity to take lessons from other life forms; admire and emulate them.

– Attention is powerful! There are healthy and unhealthy modes of attention. As of a couple days after I originally made this post, our registration numbers are climbing.

What examples can you think of from your occupation, or your life in general, on how you have chosen to turn “failure” into valuable information?