What’s on Your Failure Resume?

Author: Jasmine Zhu       

Stanford Graduate School of Business lecturer Melissa Jones Briggs advised those who attended her session at  the 2017 PCMA Education Conference to fail. And not just fail, but fail early and often.

Briggs began her interactive PCMA Business School session, “Failing Fast and Bouncing Back Like A Boss,” by tripping on her way to the stage. Briggs brushed off her mishap with a laugh.“We all have behavioral strategies to cope with failure,” she said, after acknowledging the accident to her audience. The hiccup was the perfect introduction to her session topic— moving forward through failure.


Failure is not only inevitable, you should plan for it, Briggs said.

Briggs cited Alberto Savoia’s book, Pretotype It: Make sure you are building the Right It before you build It right, in her recommendation to try out many ideas early on. Pretotyping, an idea which Savoia developed while at Google and later brought to Stanford University, is a set of techniques created to minimize failures by first making sure a concept works. “Eighty percent of well-executed ideas fail,” Briggs said. “Optimizing for fast failures leads to more successes.”

If you abandon unworkable ideas quickly, you can move onto the next idea faster, she said. “When you fail more slowly, you miss opportunities along the way.” 


Attendees were asked to rank their own risk tolerance in several categories — from financial to social risk —on a scale of 1-10. Briggs noted that risk tolerance and risk aversion in different categories were correlated — that there was a “total volume of risk [people] can handle.”

Risk tolerance grows and recedes over time, Briggs said. But “with every stretch, we learn we can stretch farther.” And abilities aren’t fixed, she asserted. For Briggs, stretching means reaching new limits and a willingness to tolerate uncertainty.“If we believe stretch leads to growth, we will stretch, we will learn.”


Attendees finished the session by writing “failure resumes,” which included a list of what they’d failed at, how they had stretched themselves by trying, and what they learned from failing. “We are stumbling at global leadership levels,” Briggs said. “It’s not the fail, it’s the behaviors you take afterwards that determine your ultimate success.”

Become a Member

Get premium access to provocative executive-level education, face-to-face networking and business intelligence.