Speeding up the failure cycle

By Morag Barrett on July 2, 2013

Posted by Morag Barrett | July 2, 2013Speeding up the failure cycleGood judgment come from experience, experience comes from bad judgment”I love this quote, which I found the way I find a lot of interesting tidbits and trivia: Facebook.  As it turns out and as best I can discover, this often-quoted phrase originated with the original source appears to be the great 13th century Sufi cleric, source of innumerable witty, funny, and insightful tales: Mulla Nasrudin. Then again, it is also attributed Will Rogers.  You can probably take your pick.  Regardless, it is the starting point for some thoughts on how to speed up the Failure Cycle in business.We learn by accelerating the failure cycle, not by avoiding it.  New leaders, new companies and even experienced leaders in a new industry will quickly find themselves “failing”, making mistakes large and small on a regular basis, whether it is spending too much money, hiring too quickly, firing too slowly,  getting sucked into politics, not paying enough attention to politics, forgetting to manage all stakeholders, focusing too much on the internal and external competition, not spending enough time on goal-setting… the list goes on.So the trick is (and this is worth millions!)….…to make decisions quickly, using all available information, but in such a way that when you fail, you fail in a small way that teaches you a lot.  This should be designed into the strategy you are making and the risks you are taking.  You can be focused on the market, the technology, the team… anything.  Make decisions that are measurable in their impact, not irreversible, and are consistent with your overall goals for the organization.  And then, repeat.  A lot.  Alan Kay from Xerox fame was known for saying“ the purpose of research is to fail, but to fail in an interesting way.”Sometimes this is called a “lean startup” mentality a’la Steve Blanks, but if can go far beyond startups.And now for an even more important idea: know that what you learn from this rapid hypothesis testing will be wrong! Yes!  Because even if you were right, conditions are constantly changing in the marketplace, or in the performance of your organization.  Keep track of the data and what you are learning along the way – balance comes in not going so fast that you can’t decipher real impact from the noise of statistical variation.  Find the trends.  Try to test you hypothesis from difference angles, learn along the way and review your conclusions frequently.  Make this part of your own management rigor, but also bring it out into the open, so failure (and risk-taking) becomes something that isn’t feared but rather embraced.  When done right, failure is the most “interesting” and impactful way to build a successful team. -Erin Lewis is an entrepreneurial executive and a contributing writer for Skye Team.  All opinions are her own and are not necessarily the view of Skye Team or the partners of Skye Team.Related Articles Share
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