Innovation’s two cousins — success and failure

Posted by: in Customer Experience, executive insights, Insights, Thought Leadership on March 4, 2013

I have had several great experiences recently related to “failing fast” in our firm.  It made me really proud of our team, so I thought I would share my perspective.

Mediocre organizations don’t fail fast.  In fact, people who work for “mediocre organizations” spend their time doing CYA activities to ensure they survive another day.  These companies gradually diminish in value due to an inability to look in the mirror.

Leading firms realize that innovation has two cousins, success and failure.  With success, we accelerate how we learn about what worked, so we can incrementally improve our services, products and relationships. Our goal is to listen, learn and improve.  It is not about packaging a great result and trying to get maximum credit.

When we understand “how” success happens, we can repeat it or improve it.  When we beat our chest, all we do is…..well, beat our chest.

Successful firms also know how to deal with failure.  The greatest athletes fail constantly and they see each failure as a window into how they can improve for next time.  It is why each team for the recent Super Bowl (Ravens vs 49ers, fyi Justin Tucker who kicks for the Ravens is from our high school, but I digress) studies film endlessly.  They look for flaws and study weakness to improve.

In our firm, we also fail on a continual basis.  We may not make a deadline or we don’t create the right team or we don’t give a project 100% of our focus or we try something new and it doesn’t work.  We’re human.

The key is that we recognize the failure and figure out how we can improve.  What led to the missed deadline that we can fix?  Why did we not build the best team? Why were we not able to give 100% and what do we do about it?  What did we learn from the failure of our new project?

Each of these examples recently occurred and we became stronger from each one, collectively and individually.

A continually learning culture celebrates success and failure.

We are transparent and ready to say “Here is how I failed, this is what I learned, and this is how I will improve”

I worked for two CEOs in the last decade who demanded that you always admit what didn’t work proactively and figure out how to fix it.  If you went in to see them, explained how you were wrong on a topic and what you would now do, as a result, you were in great shape. If you tried to spin a failure, you got your butt kicked and learned never to do that again.

They did this for a very simple reason.  They didn’t have time to waste and they were on a mission to be the best.

We are on the same journey.  Let’s all commit to each other to be brave in how we share success and how we share failure to make our teams and our companies the best in industry.  Next time a failure happens, let’s make sure we learn from it and we create an environment within our team or our firm where we can all improve….everytime.

All the best, Bob

PS/This is why I dislike case studies.  They are always positive.  If they were real, we would also talk about what we learned, what didn’t go well along with what went right.  We all know life is not perfect, so the value of case studies, as they are done today, is next to zero.   The value with full candor can lead to a next practice that creates advantage for a brand or company.  Big difference.

By: Bob Pearson

Bob is the President of W2O Group, an independent network of digital communications and marketing companies. He is an author, frequent speaker and instructor for Rutgers center for management development. After the success of his book Pre-Commerce, Bob is currently working on a new book on the future of media titled Storytizing that will be available in 2014. Prior to W2O Group, Bob worked as VP of Communities and Conversations at Dell to develop the Fortune 500’s first global social media function -- an industry-leading approach to the use of social media, as highlighted in the best seller, GroundSwell. Before Dell, Bob was Head of Global Corporate Communications and Head of Global Pharma Communications at Novartis Pharmaceuticals in Basel, Switzerland, where he served on the Pharma Executive Committee. He also serves on a variety of Boards in health and technology. Highlights include serving as an original member of the P&G digital advisory board and being appointed by the Governor of Texas to serve as chair and vice chair of the emerging technology fund for the State of Texas.

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2 Responses

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  1. Jack LeMenager said

    Nicely done, Bob. Couldn’t agree more. How much risk are we willing to take to achieve success. A Major League hitter rates very highly if he bats .333. Yet that batting average means he makes two outs for every hit. That wouldn’t seem very impressive. And he takes quite a risk, standing up against a fastballer with a two-out-of-three chance of failure. But it’s his successes that we remember and admire. The recently departed Hall of Famer Stan Musial had a lifetime average of .331. Pretty impressive failure rate, I’d say.

  2. Agree… good post Bob. I think there’s a tendency for employees in big companies to simply keep doing things that show marginal success. While it is a safe route, it often comes at the expense of innovation.

    The companies who are truly successful long term are ones that aren’t afraid to take risks…. or to fail. It’s rare for big companies to encourage that kind of culture. Right now, I think Google is doing the best job in that area.

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