Let’s talk about failure.
I started this blog post three times, and I failed each time. Every effort was a mis-step. The wrong focus here, the wrong details there. One version never got anywhere, and the other simply got way too lofty way too quickly.
In setting out to write a blog about failure, I failed three times before I found a direction that worked. I am sure that, at this very moment, you are absolutely marveling at the power of my words. I’d actually be satisfied with a chuckle. Thanks. I appreciate that.
The thing is that we spend a lot of time trying to avoid failing, as if it’s a bad thing. And granted – it can absolutely be a bad thing. Fail too big, and you can bring down your business, cause yourself serious injury, et cetera et cetera. But failure isn’t exactly the opposite of success; we should try more and more to treat it as a byproduct of even trying to succeed.
Importantly, failure can get you even more motivated to not only succeed, but to succeed spectacularly. It fires you up, and strengthens your resolve.
And probably most importantly, failure means you tried. It’s how we innovate. It’s how we develop. It’s how we grow our businesses and expand into new markets. It’s how we launch new products. Heck, it’s how we start new businesses at all.
We can try all we want to manage our risk, but we can never remove it entirely. And the best, most dynamic, most innovative businesses in the world are the ones that aren’t afraid to embrace failure – often gigantic, public, and embarrassing failure.
Do you remember Google Buzz?
Back when social media was kind of still a buzzword and Facebook hadn’t exactly taken over our lives, Google decided it wanted to jump in and get some of those sweet, sweet social media dollars. The plan was super simple, too. “Everyone is already using Google products anyway, so what we’ll do is plug a new social media platform into them.” It was right there in your Gmail. It was attached to your Reader. It was integrated into YouTube. It was pretty much unavoidable, which Google thought would make it convenient.
What it made it was annoying, and worse – people often had no idea they were broadcasting their information and content out into the world at all. And for a company (and a medium!) with a significant history of user privacy issues, well, this was about as dramatic a faceplant as one can imagine.
But it all seemed to perfect! Easy, even! They had to try.
And the thing is? They’re right. They did have to try. There really was this amazing opportunity for the company to bring its products together, steal a buttload of Facebook’s market share, and improve their ad revenues all by taking advantage of the fact that they had everybody on earth anyway. They saw the opportunity, ran with it, and fell flat on their frickin’ faces. But it was worth it, because they took those lessons they learned, turned around, and launched Google+, which has totally revolutionized the way we use social med –
But the value of failure isn’t that we can turn around and learn from them (although we can, and we should, and we are foolish if we don’t). It’s that failures indicate that we are not afraid – or if we are, that we are capable of overcoming that fear, taking risks, seizing opportunities, and striving to grow.
Failure is simply an occupational hazard of getting out there every day and kicking butt, and we absolutely need to keep that in mind when we’re pouring our morning coffee and contemplating that Big Meeting, or that Worrisome Report. As Seth Godin puts it, the person who fails the most wins.
Which is really just another way to restate something we’ve known for a long time: fortune favors the bold.