Why failure is underrated
Behind every great business success story is, more often than not, a litany of failures. Ask any ‘successful’ person and they’ll undoubtedly have more than a handful of war stories. They’ll probably go on to tell you how the experience of failure helped shape the success they enjoy today.
Embracing the notion of “we tried something and it didn’t quite work” are easy words to lay down on paper but, in reality, the demand for success can cloud our desire to continuously learn from our experiences.
When you work in innovation you have to get used to the fact the odds are against you. Imagine an industry where 80% of projects fail within the first year of launch and it becomes even harder in year two. With those conditions, you become fixated on every detail of what can nudge something to be successful.
The notion of innovation is all in the title… it’s about taking calculated risks with the assets you have to protect, grow or, in some instances, transform what you do. Given that it’s part of the job, I decided to ask some top innovators to share their perspectives on how they manage themselves, their teams and their business when things don’t go according to plan.
In no particular order, they shared some of the following nuggets. It starts with establishing a mindset, “I learned to fail fast, fail often and most importantly fail forward.” Another talked about the input of the team, “At our company, we celebrate the inputs as much as the outputs. That helps to acknowledge great work that goes into a project along the way”.
A famous ice cream company is known to hold eulogies for flavours that didn’t quite work out. They celebrate the success of the life of the product and don’t focus on spending time picking over the bones of its failure.
In the UK, we shy away from talking about failed projects, ideas that didn’t work. It feels taboo, almost embarrassing. Truth is, as a team if you’re not evolving from each bump in the road then you’re not really growing and, in innovation terms, that’s the biggest risk of them all.
Written by: Mark Cowan, Founding Director & Commercial Director of Happen Innovation Agency UK
Published in The Guardian 28th March 2016, in partnership with the Marketing Agencies Association