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Posted by Philip Patston on 21 February 2009, 10:00 am in , , ,

The opportunity of failure

Last time I blogged I had just made the call to postpone Momentum'09. It was a hard one - I'd been working on it for two years, but had had the vision for four. There was a bit of ego involved, I admit - I was looking forward to adding "successful international event organiser" to the mix of choices I had to define myself to people sitting next to me on planes. I also had to admit, like Barack Obama, that I'd screwed up.


Back in November I had doubts about the event's viability, but I failed to convince others involved in its implementation. I let them convince me we could still do it, just like I might have let someone convince me we couldn't do it in the first place. I needed to respond forcefully to my vision of how Momentum'09 could be, otherwise we never would have never even attempted it – one of my biggest learnings is that I didn't respond to my intuition that things weren't going right.  For an entrepreneur that's a difficult thing to get your head around – I remember thinking, "Maybe I'm creating this situation of doubt by thinking it." But of course I wasn't – I was simply tuning into the impact that a global recession was about to have on my work and, next time I feel it, I'll recognise it for what it is – premonition.


Stopping Momentum'09 has felt like bringing a ten ton truck to a halt from 100 km/h on an icy road. At times it's felt impossible to do without going into a fatal slide. Some people emailed, shouting at us IN CAPITALS. Others demanded compensation. One supplier argued we were contractually bound to pay our entire projected spend ($90,000) until I pointed out to them that we would be liquified if they pursued this. It was these few incidences that made me feel we were going to skid of the road. But most of the feedback was overwhelmingly positive and supportive. All in all (excuse me while I switch metaphors), a bit like Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, who landed the US Airways plane with 155 people on board in the Hudson River, I knew it was a critical situation that required me to stay calm, constructively responsive, (back to the truck) applying firm but gradual pressure on the brakes. We kept communicating, we assessed what we could save and what we couldn't, and chose the best place to stop the truck or land the plane, whichever metaphor works best for you.

As Sully Sullenberger pointed out on 60 Minutes, at the time he never considered that his crash-landing a passenger jet would end up in tragedy – he only considered landing it safely. Similarly, with Momentum'09, we were determined that, though the four-day international gathering wouldn't happen, the project would not end up a sorry wreck. As soon as we knew we'd lost momentum towards the original destination, we began looking for our Hudson.

Our search turned into a three phase strategy – Phase 1 is to hold a strategic Momentum'09 gathering on 27th February. This one day event is an invitation-only event designed to take stock of the postponement of Momentum'09 and introduce a new virtual direction (and brand)  in light of the current economic and environmental climate (Phase 2). We are also taking advantage of the fact that some of Momentum'09's international guests decided to come to NZ despite the postponement by presenting a small programme of speakers. Our third phase is to work towards a series of local events to augment the virtual movement we plan to create.

I'm sure that Sully never conceived of the change in direction that his life would take when he stepped out of the cockpit a hero on 15 January – he could have easily berated himself for failing to land in the usual manner. Momentum'09 won't happen as we planned it either and we could see that as a failure, but I think it is crucial to see the opportunity that this change in circumstance has catylised. I'm excited that, because things didn't go as planned, we have conceived of an alternative that may prove bigger and better than our original vision could ever have been.

I'll bring you more details in the next few weeks.