Encouraging Failure

Encouraging Failure

Encourage failure.  That admonition may sound paradoxical, but for many companies it can be the pathway to innovation and success.

Why is it important to encourage failure?  I recently read a great explanation in a simple value statement for a non-profit — “We often try new things, occasionally experience setbacks, and always move forward.” 

An organization that lives this value will be well on the road to sustainable success.  It displays an openness to experimentation, a realistic understanding that not every initiative is successful, and recognizes the importance of resiliency and perseverance.  As Thomas Edison put it, “I haven’t failed.  I just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

How can business leaders create a culture that accepts failure as part of the routine of continuous improvement and innovation?  Here are four suggestions:

  • Set the tone from the top. In most organizations, everyone seeks to please the boss and is loathe to disappoint.  Make sure employees understand that it’s OK if every initiative doesn’t succeed.
  • Empower employees.  A culture that accepts only success discourages new ideas.  Urge employees across the company to make suggestions – and reward the initiative not just success.  For every successful experiment, it is likely that nine will fail.  But that one winner may be transformational. 
  • Start small.  No one wants to fail spectacularly.  So start small, limiting expense and exposure.  Learn from small failures and build from there.
  • Be transparent.  Acknowledge experiments that go south.  Dissect the process and analyze what happened.  Everyone will learn from the experience.  Most of all they will learn that failure is rarely fatal.

Where leadership recognizes that failure is a critical part of the process of improvement, creativity will flourish and ideas will abound.  So to move your business forward, get comfortable with the prospect of failure – it will lead to greater success.

If you need help establishing a culture of experimentation and innovation, give us a call.  We can help you establish an environment of continuous improvement and sustainable profits.

Marc Alterman is the principal of MA33 Strategies, LLC, a consultancy dedicated to providing strategic planning and general business advice to entrepreneurs and executives.  For help with your company’s overall strategic direction or other management challenges, contact Marc Alterman at marc.alterman@MA33Strategies.com.