June 23, 2013

Do you celebrate your failures?

“You can’t learn to draw until you’ve had your first 5000 failures.”

Mistakes on the sketch pad of course stand for any failure that can be appreciated positively, if only in retrospect. Blunders in branding, confusions in customer understanding, management muddles. Lapses in life.

FailureIt is a truth universally acknowledged, that a company in search of serious growth must risk the occasional screwup along the way. Risk avoidance has its place, but the ambitious business must never be safely dull. Playing it safe is the slowest growth strategy possible. So, avoid avoidance.

Don’t tolerate the stumbles – celebrate them! Reward risk-takers for courage instead. Ring the bell and order a round of drinks for the splendid effort that didn’t quite come off. Think about it: not much good comes from finger-pointing and blame-shifting with heaping helpings of I-told-you-so post mortems. Why create cowardice by nurturing negativity?

Failures are never an all-or-nothing zero-sum deal. There are lessons to be learned from both victory and defeat. Clearly, we enjoy the victories more, but even the worst failures offer lessons to prepare us for growth. Think of all the stories about entrepreneurial giants (think Henry Ford, or Walt Disney) who earlier in their careers went over the cliff into bankruptcy. They then climbed out, having learned where the cliff edge was.

We are not, definitely not, unquestioning fans of any old “experience.” Some people have 40-year careers, others experience the same year 40 times. We even wrote a blog post recently, blasting the unjustified worship of category experience, a false god in need of blasting.

But learning experiences bring real value to the creative process, the formation of strategy, the setting of goals. Could every brand team benefit from a greybeard who’s made 4999+ mistakes? (Okay, that’s a little self-serving. I see gray hair in the mirror.) But hey. Some people accumulate marketing lessons over the long haul, and feel obliged not to repeat them.

How does your organization encourage people to get back up on the horse? How do you value, learn from and even celebrate failure?