Process, Results & the Anti-Portfolio

What’s an “Anti-Portfolio”? It’s what students or organizational culture would call an artifact. The anti-portfolio is a collection of terrible decisions and costly mistakes, in the same way that a portfolio of growing investments is often an indicator of good decisions. Why keep a list of bad decisions? What does such an artifact tell us about an organization that has one?

Here is what Bessemer Venture Partners says about their Anti-Portfolio on their website:

Bessemer Venture Partners is perhaps the nation’s oldest venture capital firm, carrying on an unbroken practice of venture capital investing that stretches back to 1911. This long and storied history has afforded our firm an unparalleled number of opportunities to completely screw up.

The list of missed investment opportunities includes Apple, Cisco, Ebay, FedEx, Google, HP, Intel and PayPal – a virtual ABC of multimillion dollar payoffs. The BVP folks have a good sense of humor about their reasons for failing to invest in these firms, suggesting an absence of a culture of blame.

Results, good or bad, in the absence of good processes that include an overarching learning process, are largely luck. An Anti-Portfolio is more than just a humorous of trophies of bad decisions. Used correctly, it is a potent learning tool.

The Anti-Portfolio as an artifact of a culture that tolerates failure, encourages learning from mistakes. Here is how to frame it visually within what we call “the ABC of Organizational Culture” model which we introduce in our book Creating a Kaizen Culture, based on the work of Edgar Schein.

Here is how to approach the adoption of an Anti-Portfolio:

1. Start by examining the core beliefs, for example that “Good things happen when we cultivate humility and open-minded curiosity from safe, blame-free workplace.”
2. Check to see whether any of these things are NOT true in your organization. Is there more arrogance than humility? A lack of curiosity? A fearful workplace characterized by blame for mistakes?
3. Select the easiest one these to correct.
4. Design a series of small steps to practice behaviors such as being transparent, blamelessly discussing bad decisions, and having a sense of humor.
5. Repeat the process with the next core belief that needs challenging, and kaizen it.

Use the Anti-Portfolio and other artifacts to help remind, reinforce and guide people to test these core beliefs and practice the behaviors that we see in winning organizations and want to model for ourselves. Do this with an appreciation of the invisible human factors, making progress in small, rapid cycles of improvement, or whatever works for you.