Sunday, 23 January 2011 00:00

Is Your Failure Rate High Enough for Success?

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The other day, while playing with my nine-month old Granddaughter, I counted the number of times she tried to do something and failed. If I had that much trouble, I would give up. Then I reflected on how many successes she has ever hour. Day by day, she changes—in a marked way. Making new sounds, crawling, climbing, signing, putting toys together, they are all big steps. She repeatedly tries until she gets it right, resulting in more successes in a day than I have in a week... maybe a month, even though she fails at more things in an hour than I do in a year. Maybe, if I were to increase my number of failures, successes would skyrocket.

Averting Failure

As adults, we look upon failure as a bad thing. We avoid it like the plague. It is embarrassing. In business, it can be a firing offense. However, if we all stay in our comfort zone insuring that we succeed, where is the seed for new ideas and innovation? As individuals and companies, we look at risk as something for minimizing. Instead, it needs managing. We should have a failure quota to meet, falling short of that measure means we are not trying hard enough.

This concept is more than learning from our mistakes, it is stepping out our comfort zone into area of known risk in order to get higher returns. After achieving success, we must repeatedly push our bounds to create more failures in search of even loftier goals. This requires leadership that tolerates, or even celebrates, the right kind of failure—failure as part of a plan to move the company forward in new and bold ways.

Entrepreneurs do this daily. It is their lifeblood. They focus on the rewards of success. A lightweight, agile, entrepreneurial company can maintain this focus. However, carrying this mindset into a company beholden to stockholders is difficult and the desire to make short-term profits often drowns out the lure of risky innovation.

The Gray Line Between Success And Failure

Traffic Sign For Allowing Failure

Success is more than a state; it is a mindset. It requires the optimism to look at setbacks differently. As with other great discoveries, rarely is success announced with the cry, "Eureka!" It all too often it is found in a puzzled and mumbled whisper, "Hmm, that's odd." This is surely the view of the people that developed a drug called Sildenafil® in the late 1980s. The goal of the drug was to help with hypertension and later was tested on patients with heart disease to reduce angina. Trials failed to support the researcher's claims. Did they stop there? No. They redirected their studies on the side effects recorded in males. In short, Pfizer patented and trademarked Sildenafil as Viagra® in 1991. The rest of the story is well known. These reports repeat for 3M's super glue failure producing Post-it® notes and Thomas Edison's purported testing of a thousand filaments to settle on his final carbon blend.

Failure Quota

Aggressively growing businesses need failures along with their successes. Accepting failures, even celebrating them, are part of pushing the envelope and creating an environment where people will take calculated risks. It is the source of innovation and growth. The attitude empowers employees to develop new products and reach new customers. Without embracing failure as part of business, companies will lose market share and become yesterday's news.

Lessons From The Pro

Take a lesson from the professionals—children that relentlessly take chances in order to try something new. Understand the risk and take the chance, it will only hurt if there is nothing learned from the endeavor. The rewards for reaching just a little farther, trying a little harder, and stepping out of your comfort zone may be the best thing you can do for you and your company.

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