Risky Business

Monday, 11 March 2013 06:30
Blog author: 

Many people (myself included) see real merit in the idea of "embracing failure" as a means of furthering learning in a business setting. It is a noble idea in principle, as realistically not every new initiative is destined to succeed. However, many of us also know that "success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan".

Curious to learn more? Read on, dear friends...

Risky Business

We often celebrate decisive people of action, those who react quickly to difficult situations and make smart, quick judgments that turn out to be the right ones (e.g. Captain Sullenberger's successful landing of his crippled aircraft on the Hudson River). Of course, we celebrate them after the fact...since it is necessary for us to know whether their decisions led to positive outcomes before we elect to honor them. In instances where the individuals/teams involved did not choose correctly...well, we don't tend to regard them so highly. In fact, we can be downright critical of them, judging them with all of the benefit of 20/20 hindsight in knowing what they did wrong that caused them to fail.

In the field of innovation, there is discussion of the wisdom of embracing failure. That is, to not be afraid to fail, but rather to try to learn what we can from decisions that turn out to have negative consequences. We're not talking about rash or impulsive decisions. Rather, were referring to decisions where the individuals make their best judgments in instances where they don't have the benefit of being able to pre-judge success likelihood. In other words, we're talking about experimentation versus high stakes gambling.

We should be willing to embrace failure (or at least accept it as a possibility) when the stakes involved are relatively low. Common sense would say that we shouldn't roll the dice in situations where outcomes are uncertain and where the stakes can be astonishingly high (as J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson has arguably done with his controversial retail promotion strategy). Unfortunately, many companies can be pretty intolerant of failure, regardless of the intent and regardless of the stakes...being bottom line kind of places, ya know?

Net, in life, we face situations where we are called upon to decide whether or not to go forward to take particular actions. These occasions can vary markedly in terms of their respective risks and the quality and extent of data available to us to help us make informed judgments. Yet, we still are called upon to act. And in these instances, we strive to do the best we can...and sometimes we're right and sometimes we're wrong. In the same spirit that we should celebrate our successes, we should be equally willing to accept and learn from our failures...recognizing of course, that we are far more likely to do the latter alone.

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