Leadership Productivity

What’s Your Failure Tolerance?

Success, said Thomas Alva Edison, is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.

This week at MinistryNet 2011 in Bangkok is making me more aware of this axiom. Yesterday nearly 200 participants broke into workgroups of 5-8 people. Each group was tasked with working a specific problem from an innovation or collaboration angle. It’s not easy. I visited three groups and observed lots of starting, stopping, reframing, challenging and offering. It’s a healthy process that our organization desperately needs in order to stay near the cutting edges of social media ministry.

Janakan Arulkumarasan, CEO of Onoko, is here with us. His company writes Facebook apps. They keep the focus tight, only allowing 10 days from start to finish for a new app. Their philosophy: Just get it out there, then polish it later. Their teams create about 150 apps per year, only one of which might be popular and go to 30 or 4o million downloads. The other 149 are scrap.

This got me thinking. Am I willing to endure that rate of innovation failure in order to achieve success? I do it in some areas of my life, for instance, when I’m learning an 8-bar guitar solo. Picking out all the notes and getting the timing just right can require dozens of practice reps until it sounds right. But sometimes in ministry I naturally feel that if I’ve prayed about something and attempt to try it, God should make it work just right the first time. That’s flawed thinking. And bad theology.

What’s helped increase your tolerance for failure en route to success?

By Ken

Dr. Ken Cochrum (DMin, Bethel University) is Vice President of Global Digital Strategies at Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) in Orlando, Florida. An avid cyclist and aspiring guitarist, he also holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Texas and a Masters of Arts in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. He recently co-founded, a movement passionate about connecting people to Jesus using digital strategies. He previously served as vice president of Cru’s student-led movements worldwide. He and his wife Ann spent 13 years in East Asia where they raised their two children. Ken blogs regularly at

3 replies on “What’s Your Failure Tolerance?”

It’s a Cru cliche but I’ve always relied on a definition of success being “taking the initiative in the power of the Holy Spirit to _______ and leaving the results to God.”

Great question. But another is, how do we respond to the failed attempts of others? Do we judge them as failures or great tries that get us closer to a solution? Do we build up those who take risks or admonish them for their lack of success?

@Destinoeric: Thanks for the reminder of a definition of success in ministry endeavors. I’ve also found that in a context where I’m trusting God with results from new approaches to ministering to others, I am likely to see improved results with increased practice.

@Maggie: I like your questions. They probe the heart of a leader and the environment he or she sets for others to continue taking faith risks.

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