Digital/Online Marketing Communications Strategy

Why Failure Is Good For You

By on October 12, 2009 in business strategy, commentary with 0 Comments

Scared man standing in deep water (Big Stock Photo)Would you attend a talk titled How and Why I Failed?

Many of us are programmed to shirk that one off without a thought.

We want to learn how to succeed.

What about a panel on failure?

A person on a panel I attended at the Global Creative Economy Convergence Summit 2009 suggested the event should sponsor a panel on failure.

He noted there is as much, if not more, to be learned in knowing why a project didn’t work out as there is in hearing why one succeeded.

It’s a great point — especially if your aim is to innovate.

Most attempts at innovation fail. If it were easy everyone could do it.

Experimentation is essential to innovation

Experimentation is fundamental to innovation. Testing to see what does or does not work is an ongoing part of the research and development process. There’s an implicit hope that an experiment may uncover heretofore-unknown knowledge that may lead to a new discovery. If not then testing continues.

We should all thank scientists for having this attitude; otherwise we’d suffer from a multitude of ailments that have been eradicated due to dogged trial and error research.

No one bats 1000

In business the fear of failure leads to paralysis and a play it safe mentality, where no one wants to stick his/her neck out and propose something new. You don’t want to be the one who came up with a faulty idea.

Unless your goal is innovate. Then you’re not afraid of failure because you know that’s part of the deal.

No person, or enterprise, bats 1000.

Failure can lead to smashing success

In the late ‘80s early ’90s Apple introduced its infamous Newton.  The device was a PDA (personal digital assistant) before anyone knew what these were or what to do with them. A product ahead of its time, it was also buggy and the Newton failed in the market; big-time.

Two developers of the Newton went on to create the operating system for the first iPods.

The iPhone includes certain elements of the Newton and the rumored Apple tablet, if it is indeed coming to market, will (reputedly) incorporate concepts first introduced via the Newton.

Famous people’s thoughts on failure

Woody Allen, a man whose broken cinematic conventions (and social ones too, but we won’t get into that) said:

“If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”

If Allen isn’t lofty enough for you, then how’s about this one from the great inventor Thomas Edison, who was awarded in excess of 1000 patents:

“I have not failed, not once. I’ve discovered 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

And for good measure I’ll include a quote by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. It’s from a commencement address Jobs gave at Stanford University where he spoke about his ability to learn and move on from failure:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

The secret to success is to learn from failure

I soaked up a lot of information at the Creative Economy Summit, from people who talked about how to succeed through business strategies, social media and new technologies.

But I think that comment about needing to acknowledge and learn from failure may be the most useful insight of all.

– Deni Kasrel

Do YOU think failure is a critical factor to achieve innovation? Is it a secret to success? Comments welcome.

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About the Author

About the Author: Deni Kasrel is seasoned (slightly spicy) specialist in digital/online communications. .

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  1. Great post! Having positive thoughts is one important key towards success.

  2. This is a great post and so true. But like we prefer to remember the good things about the past, we love talking about successes and as well, hate negative comments on our school assignments or from our boss.

    I remember a class for Peter F. Drucker told us that we all needed the experience of having been fired from a job. We wondered but he explained and I paraphrase:

    Only by being fired for something you did you learn more about your talents, limits and what taking risks means…

    Well that put my being fired from a previous job into a much better perspective 🙂

    Thanks

    Urs
    @ComMetrics

    • Deni Kasrel says:

      Urs,

      That Drucker comment is on the mark. I have been laid off, which is not couched as being “fired” but that’s what the net affect is. This event has certainly caused me to take a good look at the scope of my talents and also reflect on life experience in general.

      I am glad to hear your own firing led to a better personal perspective. Looks like you figured things out and are all the better for it.

      It is a simple thought really, to learn from mistakes, but as you note, there’s a predisposition to focus on success. We would not, however, know what one was if not for the other.

  3. autom says:

    thanks for pinging me on this post Deni – a good reminder highlighting the benefits of the trial and error process and regarding ” attempts that don’t work” as valuable stepping stones that eventually lead to successful outcomes

    • Deni Kasrel says:

      Yes, when we are young, trial and error is considered a normal part of life, but somewhere along the line we come to think we have to outgrow it.

  4. LaNeshe says:

    Very good points. Avoiding failure by not taking risks can make you accidently avoid success. Failure does provide a lesson on sucess.

  5. I’d like to comment on a few inaccuracies in this article.

    The Newton was not introduced “in the late ‘80s” but in the early 90s. Development was started on the Newton platform in 1989. The first commercial Newton device was released in August, 1993.

    A failure? Heck, no. In fact, the Cnet article you link to doesn’t mention the “failure” of the Newton at all. It does however mention “… a great technology, [which] did not fit that mission [of Apple] …” and “… has not been historically profitable.” That’s hardly criteria for “big-time failure”.

    I also take issue with your statement that the Newton “failed in the market; big-time”. True, it never achieved the mass-market success of similar, yet differently executed devices such as the Palm Pilot. But, I would argue that the Newton didn’t fail at all. Technologically, it did what the platform set out to do … and did it very well. It was developed and improved over several years and took advantage of increasingly more powerful hardware iterations. It certainly achieved a status within the consumer and corporate communities and is currently appreciated as an innovative and still unrivaled (in many aspects) computing platform.

    Lastly, you state that “the rumored Apple tablet […] will incorporate concepts first introduced via the Newton.” On one hand, you’re admitting that the Apple “tablet” is only a rumour at this point and yet you’re convinced that it “will incorporate concepts” from the Newton. That’s a ridiculous combination of statements that can in no way be reconciled.

    • Deni Kasrel says:

      Grant,
      Thanks for catching my error on when the Newton was introduced — I have made a correction in the post.

      As for my noting how it failed in the market, the product was scrapped, and as even you note, did not achieve mass-market success. I did not mean to imply that it was a horrible product, but rather, as I indicate, one that was ahead of its time. It was more technologically advanced than the public was ready for. It was on the bleeding edge (outside the bounds of what the market will bear), rather than the cutting edge. It did also have bugs and was generally considered too bulky for a handheld device (at least at that time). But I did not intend to besmirch the Newton as a product, just point out that is was an innovation that did not not really catch on, but which led to other innovations that did.

  6. Chris Herdt says:

    WC Fields did say, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.” I wouldn’t want to argue with Mr. Fields, but I suspect he wasn’t learning enough from his mistakes.

    One thing I learned from failure is that failure is seldom as gut-wrenchingly awful as you expect it to be. Life goes on. (That’s not true in skydiving, but generally speaking, failure isn’t often traumatic.) I realized that failure was, at most, half as bad as I thought.

    If that’s the case, I just need to adjust my expected outcomes: If there is a 50-50 chance of success, and the price of failure is now -50, while the reward of success remains +100, then the expected outcome is +25. By all means, that’s a risk worth taking. Even if failure/success is still -100/+100, I would also factor in some personal regret for never having tried. -10, maybe?

    Failure is like a kid’s skinned knee. It hurts, and it can be ugly, but it heals quickly and is ultimately not meaningful. Knowing that is liberating.

    His questionable legacy aside, I often remind myself that Ford Motor Company was Henry Ford’s third attempt at an automobile company. Take that, WC Fields!

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