Search Marketing & Failure

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The rate of advance­ment in tech­nol­ogy often cat­a­pults our busi­ness processes into uncharted ter­ri­tory. Tra­vers­ing through uncharted ter­ri­tory, it’s more likely that we will encounter fail­ure along the way. Given that we sim­ply can­not opt to ignore the tech­nol­ogy of the future, the alter­na­tive is to get bet­ter at man­ag­ing and even embrac­ing fail­ure. In Eddy Obeng’s TED Talk, “Smart Fail­ure for a Fast Chang­ing World,” he por­tends that we must learn to “fail smart.” As more and more busi­nesses begin to uti­lize fail­ure and lever­age new tech­nolo­gies to their advan­tage, the emo­tional bag­gage of fail­ure isn’t as heavy as it used to be. In fact, the suc­cess of your enter­prise may very well rest on your abil­ity to fail smart and fast.

What does it mean to fail fast? Com­pa­nies that urge fast fail­ing gen­er­ally reach goals and solu­tions faster than those that penal­ize fail­ures. Fail­ing fast encour­ages team work and the lever­ag­ing of ideas from all types of sources includ­ing cus­tomers, col­leagues in other indus­tries, and per­sonal obser­va­tions. Fast fail­ing embraces idea gen­er­a­tion, and builds trust among col­leagues. By cre­at­ing a safe place for inno­va­tion to thrive, busi­nesses are able to retain cre­ative and inno­v­a­tive employees.

Fail­ing fast also encour­ages employ­ees to share lessons learned after a major project ends. Some­times called a “post­mortem,” I often refer to these as “ret­ro­spec­tives,” but at any rate this approach is only half right. Log­i­cally speak­ing, if you wait until the end of the project to look back on the fail­ure, there’s a good chance that many will be learn­ing what they need to know too late. Any com­pany that cel­e­brates fail­ure at the end of a project, isn’t really fail­ing fast, they’re just fail­ing. The best approach would there­fore be to cre­ate a plat­form that allows this kind of shar­ing through­out the project.

When it comes to fail­ing fast, I tend to believe that lead­ers who embrace the fail fast way of think­ing pos­sess a higher emo­tional intel­li­gence and are able to ben­e­fit from the increased learn­ing that occurs with a fail­ure. They also seem more apt to dis­cover the often hid­den ben­e­fit of form­ing stronger bonds with their col­leagues, which is also extremely valuable.

I once was telling a friend, who man­ages SEO for a lead­ing job search engine, about how I have embraced a fail fast phi­los­o­phy with col­leagues at Adobe. He told me some­thing that really made me laugh: “Why fail fast when you can fail slowly and keep your job!” The fact that he works for a job search engine only high­lights the fact that he is prob­a­bly not alone in this thought process. It is my train of thought that if more peo­ple under­stood that fail­ing fast is more than a tac­tic towards fur­ther inno­va­tion then per­haps it will gain more pop­u­lar­ity in cor­po­rate culture.

To effec­tively embrace the fail­ing fast mind­set, con­sider adopt­ing an Agile work­flow and an iter­a­tive devel­op­ment mind­set. There have been vol­umes writ­ten on the ben­e­fits of Agile SCRUM processes, so I’ll just sum­ma­rize by say­ing the ben­e­fits of Agile SCRUM start to show up thanks to more fre­quent check-ins on the progress of each project and reg­u­lar dis­cus­sions of road­blocks. In an iter­a­tive devel­op­ment mind­set, projects move for­ward much faster when bro­ken down into smaller por­tions. This may some­times be less than ideal, but some­times that’s okay when you see the big­ger pic­ture ahead.

Fail­ing fast has its rewards, but also its road­blocks. The main thing to remem­ber is that regard­less of which approach you take, fail­ure is the under­ly­ing theme. This can be a great thing in data-driven envi­ron­ments where mea­sur­ing the impact of neg­a­tive occur­rences allows us to accu­rately fore­cast the neg­a­tive impact of erro­neous changes to a web­site. Let your­self and oth­ers off the hook. Com­mit every­one to learn­ing. And when all else fails, tell your­self what Thomas Edi­son would say, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

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