What If the Secret to Success Is Failure?

A few things have put the subject of failure back on my mind of late. My brother-in-law Tom (who runs an organization called Heartland Democracy) pointed out that The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story a couple of weeks ago -- "What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?" -- the title of which is a neat summary of the argument that Aubrey Fox and I were trying to make in Trial & Error in Criminal Justice Reform: Learning from Failure. (For those few of you who haven't already read the book, Criminal Justice magazine recently published a slightly adapted version of one of the chapters, which they entitled, "Why Good Programs Go Bad.") Then Dall Forsythe at Atlantic Philanthropies sent me a link to a story in the Non-Profit Quarterly about how an overreliance on accountability may actually undermine confidence in public institutions. I find the whole issue of public-government relations fascinating. Part of what we tried to say in the Trial & Error book is that in the world of criminal justice, officials are often guilty of articulating unrealistic goals and then failing to meet them -- and that this dynamic tends to lead to public cynicism about government.

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