How to stimulate failure with the first penguin award

Imagine a group of penguins is stuck on an ice float. They are ok with the cold, but even thinking about it makes me cold. You are one of these penguin, stuck on the ice float. Are you getting cold?

You want to get back to the rest of the group on the mainland, together with your friends on this floe. It’s dangerous out there. So they are a little bit scared, and they should be! You are a bit anxious, but nothing more than that. You don’t know what is swimming under the water surface. And you surely don’t know if it wants to eat you alive.

So this group of penguins, that you are part of, are looking after each-other. “who is going to be the first penguin to jump into the water?” Nobody is super enthusiastic. Why would they, why risk your life instead of someone else.

Ok. You did the math, 50% chance. Either you get eaten, or you get on land with the rest of the group. You are sick of waiting and looking at each-other. You are going to jump into the water. The rest of the group is relieved. In this group, you are that courageous hero already.


You are in the water, oeh!, cold water! You swim as fast as possible to the main land. On the way you start to wander if your decision was the right one. With all the dangers of seals and other hungry animals. The chance that you are not going to make it is substantial. With that in mind, you swim even faster.

You see the main land. Not there yet, but getting tired of the continuous sprint. But you want to reach it alive so you do not slow down. Finally you made it. You jump onto the mainland and signal the others that it’s safe…. For now. Pfew.

You, the first penguin, are either stupid or very courageous. Or a bit of both! Either way, without you, the penguins would be stuck on that floe forever.

Do you see the resemblance? Not yet? You will in a bit. Enjoy being an hero for now!

companies and employees, get off the floe

In most company cultures, being courageous is not incorporated. Even worse, companies want you to align with the rest of the employees. Of course they want you to succeed, but ideally not on the expense of the company. And the expense in this context is failing and learning on the job.

But what if you encourage failure and taking risks on the job? Make it fun to fail. Employees will get more confident to experiment, fail and learn. And that is how you succeed as a company.

For example, Michael Jordan. Fired a lot shots in Basketball. Missed a lot as well, even in high pressure games. And still, he is one of the most successful sporters of all times. Because he failed, over and over again.

first penguin award to stimulate courageousness

So back to that story where we started. Where you are the first penguin. You made a very risky decision to jump into the water. You where very courageous. And happily for you, you succeeded.

Within Incentro, we already have a culture of trust and transparency. And we definitely do not punish failure. But by not punishing it, you are still not stimulating it. You want to stimulate employees to be that first penguin, to jump into that cold and dangerous water.

With the metaphor story of the penguin we encourage our employees at Incentro to take risk. To fail. To Learn. And in the end to succeed, by being courageous. Our mission is Digital Happiness. We have 3 core values, Happiness, Specialism and Ambition. In the second, but especially in the third value, taking risks is required.

the first penguin award

We want our employees to take risks. Get out there and experiment, test, and fail. So we started with the first penguin award. A monthly award show. With only one subtle question:

What is your first penguin story?

This award is for risky and courageous ideas that end up being spectacular failures in terms of feasibility. Or not even got a chance to fail. Or, perhaps, one that got to be a success.

We want to reward everyone who take risks; our climate obligations require ‘disruptive’ changes and not just incremental bolt lightening. It’s not easy to go out on a limb, to try something different and new. But, if enough of us try these high-risk, high-reward ideas, some of them will be successful. And in the end, we will succeed. Together.

The First Penguin Award is meant to reward these risky ideas that didn’t work out or never got a change.

Meet our penguin:

That is my story of the first penguin. I would love to share some of our first penguin stories in the coming period here on Crafting empowerment.

What is your penguin story?