There's No Success Like Failure

Bari Samad's picture

I love my Dyson Ball vacuum cleaner. It’s super light, doesn’t use bags, has two reusable HEPA filters and uses cyclonic separation technology (called Dual Cyclone in the Dyson) that can kick some serious dirt butt. Best of all, it has that amazing ball designed to help the vacuum make curved turns and reach hard-to-get-to spots. Almost makes me want to vacuum right now. Well, almost.

What I did not know and appreciate about Dyson vacuum cleaners until recently is that it took James Dyson 5,126 prototypes before he got it right! In other words, he failed thousands of times before he achieved success.

Using his mistakes as fuel for the creative process and problem solving, Dyson clearly subscribes to a view that NetSquared shares: failure is an option.

A great innovation is often misconceived to have been the product of some epiphany by a very smart person, who then made a few adjustments and presto! There it was. Not so. The reality more often resembles the Dyson story. Hard work, risk-taking and lots of failures in an iterative process of trial and error has produced some of the most innovative stuff. Even Thomas Edison conducted 10,000 experiments before making a light bulb work right!

I’m not a big sports fan, but I really like what basketball legend Michael Jordan had to say about all this:

I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Failure in the Work Culture

The team and leadership at NetSquared gets that innovation requires some level of risk-taking. And taking risks involves “baking” failure into your strategy. This is not about anarchy and chaos at work, it’s really about investing in your people. It’s a smart strategy because it frees up your team to operate at their fullest potential, and that might well be one of best moves you can make if you want to achieve success.

For the most part though, our work cultures still haven’t cozied up to failure as a viable strategy for success. In most places I have worked, leadership has not seen failure as an option. I assume this has to do with fear: of losing money, precious resources, and reputation.

As a response to this fear, I might invoke the concept of encouraging a work culture of “intelligent failures”. These happen early, inexpensively and provide valuable insights. "Figuring out how to master this process of failing fast and failing cheap and fumbling toward success is probably the most important thing companies have to get good at," says Scott Anthony, the managing director at consulting firm Innosight.

Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

Importantly, we don’t allow ourselves to fail enough on a personal level. There is some deep-rooted social taboo about failure which I won’t get into here because it might bring up too many of my parent issues! But my point simply is that we are way too hard on ourselves, and that pressure in fact limits our potential.

Yes, don’t hurt others with your experiments. And sure, I get it, if you have your life savings invested in something, it’s no joke to lose everything. Still, in a hyper-competitive world, if you don’t have something exceptional, you are not going to make it anyway.

So the next time you are feeling a creative, innovative urge and that voice in your head says “No, I can’t afford to take a risk and make mistakes”, try this instead:

Practice intelligent failures. Go with your intuitions and give form to your ideas. If it means making a mess, mess something up! Break it, fix it. See how it works the next time. Keep trying.

And then try again.