Epic Fail

Epic Fail

What is the Epic Fail story tactic?

When your plans go wrong, you can play the blame game. Or you can make sense of the failure with a story.

A study of failed startups found people told different types of story to explain what had gone wrong. Some people blamed themselves. Some found a villain to blame. And others blamed external factors. When you're working on a risky project, understanding Epic Fail stories can help you deal with inevitable setbacks.

Compare this technique with Downfall.

How to use the Epic Fail story tactic

You'll hear one of these six basic stories after any failure or setback. Use them as a way of thinking differently about what went wrong.

a. Catharsis: suffering and rebirth

  • You say: "that was my fault, and I've learned from it"
  • Pros: shows humility and an open mind
  • Cons: have you learned the right lessons?

b. Hubris: collective overconfidence

  • You say: "we tried to run before we could walk"
  • Pros: puts the focus on team failings
  • Cons: less emphasis on personal responsibility

c. Betrayal: blame someone close

  • You say: "he let me down" or "she wasn't up to it"
  • Pros: shows skills gaps in the team
  • Cons: gets very personal and accusatory

d. Mechanistic: impersonal or organisational failure

  • What is worth defending in the old city?
  • How can you strengthen your walls?
  • Walls protect, but they also restrict. What's the cost of staying put?

e. Zeitgeist: the spirit of the age

  • What's yous best line of attack?
  • What are yous chances of winning?
  • What's the reward and is it worth the risk?

f. someone deliberately brought you down

  • What's yous best line of attack?
  • What are yous chances of winning?
  • What's the reward and is it worth the risk?

Credit: S.Mantere et al, Narrative Attributions of Entrepreneurial Failure.

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