What is it like to get on a stage to tell your most embarrassing professional moment in front of an audience consisting of a hundred colleagues with the CEO in the front row? Humiliating? Mortifying? Stuff of nightmares? "No, exhilarating," says HR specialist Katariina Siponen, the winner of this year's VTT Gala of Failures after accepting her prize.
"I was terrified but when it was my turn, I just went for it. When I saw that my silly misspelling story made people happy and laugh, it empowered me. I was enjoying," Katariina wrote on LinkedIn the day following the event.
And laughter, empowerment and the courage to try and fail is exactly what the event aims at. Organised by the VTT Young Professionals network for the second time last week, Gala of Failures invited VTTers to share and celebrate their mix-ups and missteps.
These things only happen to me, right?
Working to solve global challenges with some of the brightest minds in science can be intimidating at times, so an evening dedicated to fails instead of successes can help us remember that failing is only human – and often necessary when reaching for breakthroughs.
This year's fails took the audience from a close call cyanide-poisoning in the lab to a conference trip to Germany where just about everything went wrong. The winning fail was maybe less dramatic, but – without a doubt – highly relatable. Everyone in the audience could feel their cheeks burning when Katariina perfectly delivered her story that could have happened, and surely has, to many of us. All it took was for one letter to be out of place to turn an ordinary email into an awkward exchange. When she described first insisting on being right and then learning her own mistake, the room filled with laughter. It's comforting to remember that we're not the only ones that mess up.
Failing – a culture worth promoting
An evening outside the labs and offices, telling stories and putting ourselves out there by sharing embarrassing moments is a good way to set a tone for the coming year. And while the Gala is organized only once a year, learning from failure is a mindset worth keeping.
"Last year's event was a success, and showed us the power of failure in promoting openness and creating human connection. This year we wanted to continue building a community that doesn't focus on perfection, but courage and learning," says Erkka Rinne, and the rest of the organizing team agrees.
The sentiment is echoed across VTT, which was made clear by senior experts and management who participated by sharing their experiences. In their stories, the evening's guest stars emphasized the importance of tenacity, humbleness and being kind to yourself. CEO Antti Vasara summarized the evening well: "Sometimes we fail and sometimes we succeed – but learning is inevitable."