“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm” – Winston Churchill
Yes, commercial organisations are in it to win it – but, sometimes, failure is the best (and only) option, as Ron Ashkenas has argued in the HBR Blog. To paraphrase the proverb, how can you hope to develop and improve your skills unless you fail once and then try, try again?
It’s important to recognise that failure is all about management: it is understandable that employees may feel dejected and lose confidence following an unsuccessful sales call, or some negative feedback from a client. What managers and individuals alike must try to get from these situations is a clear, directional code for improvememt: which components to highlight, and which to avoid, in their future business interactions.
The macrocosm of this positive failure ethos, however, concerns more than the individual. For in failure is encapsulated the very notion of commercial innovation – does anyone think the iPad 3 was the product of a first-attempt fluke? Or that the hi-tech yellow Nike trainers which were so prevalent in the Olympics were the first designs around the table? No. The Apples and the Nikes of the world know that “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”. With each failure, you cross out one more invalid hypothesis, and get one step closer creating the perfect product or service for your customers.
Of course, it is a little different operating a small-business telemarketing and telesales agency to running the creative innovation department of a multi-billion sportswear brand.
But, a similarly open attitude to innovation and failure can be applied to any company’s business culture. Employees must feel comfortable with taking on new challenges, going out of their comfort zone and trying new techniques – without the fear that they will be reprimanded or moved on because “failure is not an option”.