I never have a problem talking about my failures. I fail routinely! One of my biggest Wikipedia failures was my first Wikipedia program on campus, an edit-a-thon.
The Edit-a-thon Plan
I had wanted to run an edit-a-thon for a while. I had been immersed in Wikipedia research, which included a news alter for Google. I kept getting news about libraries and universities running these events and how popular they were. I was so very confident that people would come. I centered it around the freshmen level writing theme, I promoted it to those students, and I even picked entries to help direct them! The day of the event came, I set up the lab, I put up the slides suggesting sources, and I wait.
And I waited some more.
And nobody showed up for 3 hours.
What Went Wrong?
I spent a lot of time thinking about what went wrong. There were only 2 people who showed up that day, but both were curious faculty members. Both stayed to chat, but by the end of the event, only I had done any work. I got more comfortable editing and I learned about how Wikipedia handled copyright issues. I wasn’t ready to do more editing, but I realized that neither was my campus. We were still focused on Wikipedia as a problematic research tool.
I failed to account for the success of the events I had seen on other campuses. The key difference was that they were student initiated events, typically with a club of some type. I didn’t have a core group of students that would attend and participate. I had just me and I had counted on the faculty to encourage the students to participate.
Then there was the key issue: I wasn’t ready to do this. I wasn’t an active Wikipedia editor. I didn’t have the reach on campus to engage the community. I need to grow and I was too focused on the research as an outsider.
Changes That Happened
One of my greatest struggles with working in an innovative environment are those who are exhausted from failure. They have failed so many times that they can’t encourage others. These are the people who say “oh, we already did that and it failed.” I hope I never have or will say that to someone. A year later I met a woman who changed everything. She too wanted to do edit-a-thons and wanted to learn from my mistake. I shared my experience and suggested maybe we try again together. Maybe she could achieve something I couldn’t or together we could achieve what I couldn’t do alone.
Next week, that story…
Tell me in the comments: tell me about a time you failed at something, but learned more than you ever expected.