Ready to Fail?

Sunday, October 2 2022

“Failure is not an option” is often heard in the media. But is that really how organizations move forward and is your organization ready to fail?

Much has been written about the importance of learning from failure such as the oft-quoted story that it took Thomas Edison 10,000 failures to invent the light bulb. How well are companies putting in place policies that allow and encourage their people to fail?

Learning from failure is foundational in the academic world. We quote statistics from outlier companies such as Amazon, Coca-Cola, Netflix and Domino’s Pizza, but how do we apply this type of “failure think” when it comes to an average business. If you’ve spent your life building a business that supports employees, suppliers, and the community, failure doesn’t seem like a very good strategy.

In this article we ask questions that only a leader can answer; is your business ready to fail?

In May 2017, right after he became CEO of Coca-Cola Co., James Quincey called upon rank-and-file managers to get beyond their fear of failure, which had loomed over the company since the “New Coke” fiasco way of 1985. “If we’re not making mistakes,” he insisted, “we’re not trying hard enough.

How do you apply “failure think” to an average-sized business?

For many roles simulators are used; they allow us to fail faster and more often without killing people. You can accurately record what’s going on and better understand and learn from your failure. So how does an average business do that?

Brainstorming 2.0

Say the word brainstorming to most business owners and you often get a “you gotta be kidding” look, and in most cases their skepticism would be justified.

Brainstorming was developed in the 1950’s, however after all these years no academic studies have proven that it’s widely effective. Usually, the power dynamics of a typical business group get in the way. Typically, the most extroverted or powerful person will dominate the brainstorming session undermining its productivity.

Dr. Tony McCaffrey has created a groundbreaking brainstorming technique  called brainswarming to overcome the problem of multiple individuals arguing over their ideas. He simply takes the talking out of the exercise.

Brainswarming uses a set of simple rules and structure that asks members of a team to quietly think about solutions to various areas of the problem. Then, write down their ideas on Post-It notes and place them strategically on a whiteboard. Ideas flow more naturally and logically.

McCaffrey came by this breakthrough after observing the way insects leave clues for each other. They do not talk yet they can still be highly efficient, and studies show that brainswarming can produce more ideas in 15 minutes than brainstorming can in 60 minutes!

Brainswarming allows you to do simulating or testing your business ideas before you make serious investments in them. You can fail in a safe environment, so why don’t more companies do this?

How Can Your Company Fail Better?

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings worried that his streaming service was canceling too few new shows and learning from failures. “Our hit ratio is too high right now, We have to take more risk… we should have a higher cancel rate overall.”

Here are the questions that you as a leader can ask about how much you embrace failure in your company:

  • Do you openly encourage debate and criticism?
  • How do we treat new ideas?
  • Is there a system for testing new ideas?
  • Do you give awards to employees who fail?
  • What incentives exist for innovation?

Consider how your organization could establish such a culture, using your imagination, and brainswarming. Some of the most successful companies in the world take advantage of failure, so why shouldn’t yours fail well? If you are looking for a facilitator to help your business when failure happens, you can learn more here.