Turning adversity to advantage hit national profile in the business press with July 10th’s Business Week article ‘How Failure Breeds Success’ (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_28/b3992001.htm). Thanks to Wally Bock’s Three Star Leadership Blog where I first came across the article in one of his postings (http://blog.threestarleadership.com/2006/07/10/can-you-really-fail-your-way-to-success.aspx).
A bit of an oxymoronic ‘man bites dog’ attention grabber as the cover story, the article builds on the many of the ‘rise each time you fall’ thoughts in this blog. Failure is not the kiss of death. Failure is a necessary ingredient of risk taking and innovation. Failure breeds learning. In fact, it even uses the title of my initial piece ‘Embracing Failure’:
Indeed, for a generation of managers weaned on the rigors of Six Sigma error-elimination programs, embracing failure — gasp! — is close to blasphemy. Stefan H. Thomke, a professor at Harvard Business School and author of Experimentation Matters, says that when he talks to business groups, "I try to be provocative and say: ‘Failure is not a bad thing.’ I always have lots of people staring at me, [thinking] ‘Have you lost your mind?’ That’s O.K. It gets their attention. [Failure] is so important to the experimental process."
One of the best parts of the article was the distinction made between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ failure and that ‘embracing failure’ does not mean that every failure is to be applauded.
Granted, not all failures are praiseworthy. Some flops are just that: bad ideas…But intelligent failures — those that happen early and inexpensively and that contribute new insights about your customers — should be more than just tolerable. They should be encouraged. "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. "Getting good" at failure, however, doesn’t mean creating anarchy out of organization. It means leaders — not just on a podium at the annual meeting, but in the trenches, every day — who create an environment safe for taking risks and who share stories of their own mistakes. It means bringing in outsiders unattached to a project’s past. It means carving out time to reflect on failure, not just success.