Tim Kastelle


The failures of crises and disasters take embracing failure into a whole different realm. There are failures and then there are failures. In the more methodical dissections of failure, I’ve proposed some ‘laws of failure’, but I think is just as useful to outline a ‘taxonomy of failure’

Fortunately, Tim Kastelle has made a pretty good stab at it, with his post “Finding the Best Way to Fail”, which is as good a place to start as any…

“I think that what we need is a taxonomy of economic failure. We can actually think of failure as a hierarchy that looks something like this:

  • System failure (the collapse of communism)
  • System component failure (stock market crashes)
  • Major firm failure (Enron going out of business)
  • Start-up failure (pets.com going out of business)
  • Product failure (New Coke tanking)
  • Idea failure (Apple Navigator prototyped but never launched)

“As you go down that list, failure gets less expensive. When I talk about tolerating failure, I’m talking about trying to set up systems that encourage cheap fast failure. This is usually at the level of ideas. I agree with Suster that encouraging failure at higher levels can be irresponsible. Innovation courts failure. Not every great new idea will work – and since it is nearly impossible to tell in advance which ones will work and which ones won’t, we have to find cheap, quick ways to test them out.”

Not all failures are created equal. As such, they don’t warrant the same embraces either.