Which is worse? Is it taking a risk and failing or not taking a risk at all? Failure can be a tough teacher but according to Apple founder, Steve Jobs, it’s important to success. During a commencement address at Stanford University he said: “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.” Jobs is remembered as an incredibly successful visionary.
For rogue management consultant, Steve Smolinsky from Bernari LTD, failure is an ideal way to learn about success in business. “There’s something to be said for someone who has gone through the process of dealing with a business when it doesn’t work or of launching a product that was a failure. An interesting thing happens to them – their perspective changes. Failure gives you a different way of looking at the world.”
How does failure do this?
“When things fall apart the first time, you go through stress and anguish but the experience stays in the back of your head giving you an incentive to pay attention and add value in the future. If things don’t work again, you understand what people are going through and know when to be aware. One of the reasons the US has been so successful in business is because the culture accepts failure. It’s okay if something doesn’t work. In other countries, such as Japan, when you fail you are dead meat altogether. But allowing failure gives people a sense of freedom to take more chances. If you have a number of successes, you get complacent about it. When you’ve been part of something that’s failed, you appreciate success much more.”
What about failure versus incompetence?
“If you’re incompetent, you don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t have the skills, knowledge and experience to do a task. With failure, it’s not about ability but timing, resources or bad luck. You might have a great idea but another bigger company gets in before you. Or think about Thomas Edison. Before inventing the light bulb, he tried hundreds of ideas before coming up with the filament. It’s okay to learn a thousand things that don’t work as long as you’re going down the right path and moving in the right direction.”
How can a company build in an acceptance of failure?
“It’s about encouraging a culture of risk taking and of rewarding people for trying things. Of course, you need to have the appropriate oversight and processes in place. But instead of calling someone a moron and firing them, you create an environment that says, “That was a great idea, too bad it didn’t work, what will you try next?” With this type of culture, your staff is energized and enthusiastic because they feel like the company wants them to think and move forward.
Give employees time to come up with ideas for the company. Allocate ten percent of their work time to this process. Most won’t come up with usable ideas but one or two could have great suggestions that cover the cost for the whole process. To fail at something doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It just means it didn’t work. Encourage the person and give appropriate feedback for next time. There’s a learning there. If you spend your time screaming at people, guess what? They won’t be motivated to think about how to perform tasks better. They’ll give you the bare minimum. The person at the top of the company sets the tone for this process.”
Steve Smolinsky shows companies how to streamline processes and become more successful. Contact him through www.benariLTD.com.
Photo Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1078182