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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Failure is a Good Thing - Fail Fast, Learn and Try Again

One of the stumbling blocks that many retailers have when growing their online channel is the fear of failure.  The idea of this post is not push the idea that you should not fear failure, but that fear keeps you sharp and we need to challenge the idea of failure within an organization.  In the end what we all want to do is fear and avoid total failure but small failures can be good. In fact by encouraging the small failures you may be reducing the overall risk of the business / project failing.

First off you need learn from failures, it means you are pushing the envelope, trying new things out and driving the business at a fast pace.  Things happen, even the best laid plans, the deepest analytical model or the most detailed project plan will see unexpected change.  Analysis paralysis is the enemy here, best is to understand the opportunity, have the talent in place to understand how to take advantage of it and get an execution plan that makes sense for the business.  If this fails then learn from it so that: A. You don't fail again in the same manner, and B. The learnings are applied to drive the business forward.

Secondly, if you fail you need to fail fast.  Ensure that you have built an agile model and organization that can support fast failure.  This means than you are willing to walk from projects that are not showing the expected results.  Failing fast reduces the overall organization risk and ensures that good dollars are not thrown after bad.  It is much harder than you think to build an organizational culture to support this and I'm sure we all have experiences where a dead project was kept on life support.

Thirdly, you need to ensure that the team understands it is OK to fail if the first two points are embraced.  A team that is afraid of failure becomes bureaucratic, slow and not willing to take chances or ownership of initiatives.  This will hurt your business.  To avoid this you need to champion fast failure and call out the success of what was learned and applied.  A failure shouldn't be treated like the plague or swept under the carpet, it should be openly talked about, the learnings shared and the team involved acknowledge for their drive to grow the business.

The above three points have limits, but it provides a framework from which you can build and reform your culture for success.  Changing the fear of failure can have massive impacts on a organization and the best way to see if your company is setup for success is to ask yourself the question "When was the last time you failed?"

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