Business Strategy | Leadership / Management

Failure’s fine, but get better along the way

Football The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Tell me about it. I'm a lifelong Detroit Lions fan. Sunday after Sunday I tune in, expecting the Lions to win. Sunday after Sunday they break my heart, often in spectacularly awful ways. I gripe about it for six days, then tune in yet again the following Sunday, expecting different results.


Naturally, thinking about the Lions got me thinking about failure -- not football failure, mind you, but business failure.

We've said it before, and it bears repeating: Failure is a good thing. It's one of the best teachers out there. When we fail, we learn to succeed.

There's a downside, though, isn't there? It's when we let that "freedom to fail" mentality become an excuse for flat-out incompetence.

"There’s no doubt that innovation entails risk and randomness, and that sometimes people are going to do all the right things but get bad results," Scott Anthony writes in this BusinessWeek article. "We should celebrate people who take well-thought-out, calculated risks that don’t pan out. That is not failure but important learning on the road to organizational success, as resources can be redirected to projects with higher potential. But that doesn’t excuse stupidity and sloppiness."

The good news, as G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Viton point out, is this: "Failure isn’t fatal. In fact, it’s required for innovation success — and indeed for corporate survival."

In other words, failure is fine, as long as you learn something along the way and get better as a result.

Unlike, God help me, the Detroit Lions.


Bill Sheridan