The ability to fail is an important ingredient in any organisation. That may sound like a crazy statement. Surely you want the ability to succeed rather than fail. In a utopian world, sure, succeeding at everything you do sounds fantastic. But the reality is that if everything you touch is met with success then you probably aren’t pushing yourself to your limits. Jason English, multiple winner of the 24 hour World Solo Championships Mountain Bike Race, was recently asked for his greatest piece of technical advice. His answer was one that maybe I took too much to heart with my recent MTB accident as he said, “If you aren’t falling off you aren’t riding fast enough.” His point is that the only way you learn your real limit is to keep pushing until you go slightly past it – then presumably pull it back just a notch.

Thomas Edison, perhaps the world’s single most influential inventor, was once criticised by his critics for failing with a particular invention. He famously replied, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

In a government arena, failure is frowned upon. It seems to me that there are a range of people, media and various organisations who are sweating on failure from governments of all levels and are then ready to pounce on them to point out any such failure. The result is that you end up with governments which are typically very conservative in their approach to absolutely everything. They take low-risk options and therefore perform well below their potential. There are obviously certain things from government where we want low-risk. When we provide water to our residents, we don’t want to experiment with a new treatment process that will be cheaper but has risk of water-borne disease. We don’t want to build a bridge with a revolutionary new method that hasn’t been properly tested with expected loads that will be carried over it. When it comes to the lives of people, then obviously we want very risk-averse methods employed, but there are a range of other activities that governments are involved in where I am sure more creative and innovative methods could be employed.

If I go back into the dark annals of Dubbo City Council history, I had a feeling that Council was so criticised by so many quarters that both Councillors and staff shrunk down into their bunkers and went through the motions without going anywhere near pushing the envelope.

When I became Mayor, I actually spoke to our staff and asked them to put their heads up above the parapet. Assuming that ideas were honest and thought through clearly, I would defend our staff against the critics as I wanted them to feel confident in coming forward with ideas. We have a lot of clever staff who had a lot to offer.

It takes time and you have to gain some credibility to actually have permission to fail but I believe this Council has done exactly that. We have performed well for a number of years and, in general, the public has more confidence in the entire organisation.

That then gives us the ability to push some envelopes. The entire Dubbo Ignite program that we are now running is a perfect example of this. The process we are going through – and the ideas we are putting forward – are not mainstream Council. Even the submission process whereby any social media tool can be used to send a submission to Council just by using #dubboignite is revolutionary. I can’t find any other Council in the nation that makes it so easy to send a submission to a Council.

What occurs in an organisation when they have permission to fail is they also have permission to dream. No longer are the people in that organisation constrained by ‘the way it has always been done.’ They can start to look at the data and facts and make decisions based on that information rather than making decisions based on simply historical repetition. I sometimes hear the maxim that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ but fortunately humans have always tried to improve what we have. That started way back with Ugg in his cave chipping away at some rocks to make an axe through to the almost daily improvement we see in our modern electronics. Inventors and evangelists are solving problems that we don’t even know we have, but once we have a solution, we can’t believe how we lived without it. The first smartphone in the world was released on 29 June 2007 and today, less than eight years later, penetration in Australia has gone past the 90 per cent mark.

It is a complex concept and the definition of failure is dramatically different dependent upon your point of view of any situation but my belief is that all organisations, including government, need to have permission to push themselves to realise their full potential.

Tell me if you think governments should be crucified if they make a mistake at

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