In the business press, it seems that failure is having a moment. Suddenly, failing is being portrayed as cool, the latest export from Silicon Valley to those of us who can’t quite think around corners they way they do out there.
Fail fast, they say.
However, it seems that failure has become somewhat overrated. After all, it’s far better to succeed.
As an executive, you want your team to do everything it can to find success. This means risking failure, but it should never mean accepting failure. When your company culture comes to accept failure, you’re on a slippery slope towards irrelevance.
On the other hand, most failures are not final. For business owners, having a willingness to fail, or at least a willingness to risk failing, is vitally important. You have to go out on a limb when you start a business or when it comes time to make a bold decision, and if you’re afraid to fail you’ll likely be paralyzed into inaction.
When you’re doing anything worthwhile in business, there’s some risk of failure. And, when we come up short in our quest, failure does not have to be the end; often, it is merely a pivot point that we can use to launch ourselves towards ultimate success.
Consider what happened at Netflix just over five years ago: CEO Reid Hastings was intent on separating the company’s streaming service from its DVD delivery service in a blatant attempt to get customers to spend more money. There was logic behind the move, but it ignored what the market wanted, and it backfired. Badly. Customers revolted, revenue plummeted, and Hastings was a laughingstock and the company was teetering. The company retrenched and invigorated its focus on streaming, becoming a provider of original content. The company learned its lesson—always listen to your customers—and changed its approach.
When things go wrong, we need to learn from them. If we don’t learn something, then the failure really was damaging. But if a lesson is learned and the product is made better, then the failure may eventually be seen as a necessary step on the road to ultimate success.
The ability to overcome setbacks is important. After all, not everything is going to go right all the time. So executives must have a measure of grit or resilience.
Clearly, when running your business, you must aim for success, and do everything in your power to get there. However, you can’t let fear of failure stop you in your tracks.
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