Failure is a Gift

Does your corporate culture encourage failure? It may sound like an odd question, but actually, it’s a critical one. If they do you are in a great place. Most people view failure as a negative. I view it as a natural part of life, both personal and professional. We learn significantly more from failure than we do from success. It humbles us, makes us more introspective and analytical.

Imagine if the great innovators of the world were afraid to fail. They wouldn’t be innovators at all would they? Achievement has a direct relationship with failure. Corporations need to give their people a safe harbor contract on failure. Too many companies keep projects or products alive precisely because they are afraid to fail. They would rather expend additional resource to keep something on life support rather than just say, it didn’t work and we are moving on. Honda Motor Company recently produced a video on the merits of failure. Have a look.

Early on in my career I was deathly afraid to fail. Today, I expect that a lot of what I do won’t work, and I’m comfortable with that. I work faster now, am much more productive, and get things out in the marketplace at a faster pace than most. However, I am not blind to knowing that I need to track, observe and then iterate. My failures are smaller, and off the meter, but I learn so much more. Many corporate cultures today look longingly at every little detail. They fuss and anguish over every little thing, which means it takes longer to get approvals and move the the next step. When I’m in those difficult meetings, I practice subtraction while everyone else is doing super addition. I would rather do less today than too much next month.

Don’t misread me here. I’m not advocating ignoring the customer or compliance issues. Some projects need the nurturing that only corporations can shower on projects. But the truth is most don’t. Being part of the digital team at my firm has given me license to do things quickly and with less gold plating. After all, the Internet is easy and quick right ? I believe it’s much more satisfying and in the end more valuable for the company to create things quickly and then stop them just as fast if need be. So I say, if you have an idea, don’t be afraid that it won’t work. The ideas are the easy part. Getting them to market is harder, stopping them is the hardest thing of all.

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