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Failure is an option, according to the Brilliant Failures Institute

An institute in Amsterdam is inviting applications for an award for brilliant failures, recognising the lessons learned from apparently failed projects in the field of development.

The award, co-sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands and several development organisations, is open to anyone working in the field—including researchers.

Running for the second year, the award is organised by the Brilliant Failures Institute, an organisation that aims to drive a cultural change in the way we view failure.

The institute was founded three years ago by Paul Iske, a professor of open innovation and business venturing at Maastricht University, and Chief Dialogues Officer at the Dutch bank ABN AMRO. The Brilliant Failure project is part of Dialogues, a programme initiated by the bank to support entrepreneurial thinking and behaviour.

Iske told Research Fortnight that the idea for the institute came to him when he was working on a research project about bankruptcy. Those that have experienced bankruptcy tend to find greater success in business the second time round than those starting out for the first time, he says.

“From there, we thought it would be a nice idea to actually start the Institute of Brilliant Failures to help create a more tolerant climate for people who try to stick their neck out and take calculated risks,” adds Bas Ruyssenaars, vice-president of the institute.

Ruyssenaars says the organisation has gathered many examples of brilliant failures from science and research, which often involve serendipity. “It is well-known that a few paradigm shifts in science have been caused by brilliant failures,” adds Iske.

The institute is looking for submissions for the award before 1 October. Applications should be a 300-word description of a brilliant failure.

The prize for the winner is yet to be determined, but Ruyssenaars says that, along with a certificate, it will probably be some sort of training or consultancy course in how to become more innovative.

Apart from the award, the institute organises lectures, interactive workshops and road shows.

Iske says that his own most brilliant failure was setting up a knowledge-management project “before knowledge management was really understood”. While working at Shell, he set up a directory listing individuals with various fields of the expertise in different departments across the company.

“It was too early to commercialise the project outside of Shell,” he says. “Now people do this—like Linked In. One of the lessons I learned about innovation was that timing is very important.”