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Failure Sucks

October 21, 2016


If we are honest, we don’t want to fail. It sucks.


We don’t train for a race, only to hope we fall over at the first hurdle instead of making it to the finish line and possibly winning.


“At least you fell over before you used too much energy eh?” Said nobody ever.


In order to avoid such failure, we train, practice and focus. We try small distances and increase over time until we feel confident that we can make it the whole way. We measure our progress, using metrics like timing, speed, distance covered. We also consider our enjoyment and passion for keeping on going. When these things align, we know we have a good chance of finishing the race and where we might come in. This sets us up well for success.


Practice reduces the risk of failure and if we do fail, there is not much lost (energy, resources, reputation) and a lot gained (data, insights, feedback).

To reduce the risk of failure you need to set goals, create safe experiments to test them, collect data about their success and make informed decisions about how to proceed.


Failure can show you a path you hadn’t considered, so deliberately creating a safe place to fail, you can uncover multitudes of opportunities that you would otherwise have missed


So how do you set this up?

Some companies fear failure so much, that they over analyse, plan and mitigate risk, such that they miss the opportunity to learn from early data and customer feedback, leading to a large expensive product that may not ever reach market-fit. Funds are raised and success is measured by the delivery of products or features at the end of a given timeframe. The distance between the original idea and the end result is enormous and continues to grow.

Many companies attempt to create innovation teams, separating them from the core business and giving them fewer rules. However, they continue to measure success by how many products are launched or revenue growth over time. Therefore, failure is still expensive. It comes at the risk of perceived under-achievement against these metrics. The success of an innovation team should be measured on how easy and safe it is to fail, adapt and recover and keep going.


Good innovation practitioners seek to minimise the cost of failure.

We seek to prepare ourselves well enough, so that we can get as far as we can, to succeed. We ensure that any hurdles are small and we can easily adapt and change our approach. We accept that some of our assumptions will be wrong, but we have some ideas about what we’ll do instead. We are armed with enough information to get us to the next valuable piece of information and have a passion for the journey as well as good instincts about the opportunity.


Unfortunately, the adjectives of remaining agile and lean have become associated with a particular process, rather than the true meaning of keeping things light and being ready to adapt. Being nimble, doesn’t equal chaos. It doesn’t mean there isn't planning, research or strategy. Quite the opposite, it means that we’ve thought about possibilities, but take a lighter attitude to risks and test small assumptions in a safe environment.

You can do small experiments in lots of ways. Observing real behavior is by far the best way to validate demand. You don’t need to build the whole product to test it with real people. You can fake it, do things that won’t scale. You can use another brand name and start to develop a small community of people to help you build the business.


A good way to get started is to determine what success looks like to you. Is it how many customers, how much they pay, how often they use it or their satisfaction?


Use the success metrics, to model a test scenario. If x people register interest in the service by x date at y price, it’s great.


Get creative. Undo your natural urge to build things. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Manual invoicing instead of building a billing engine

  • Build a landing page with registration form in Wix

  • Use SurveyMonkey to post a poll

  • Get a designs done by a freelancer

  • Import contacts from LinkedIn to a free CRM like Pipedrive

  • Offer a limited number of services, fulfill them offline - no need to build the entire fulfilment process - I mean literally buy some stock, sell it and post it yourself or if offering a service, hire a contractor to do the servicing temporarily

  • Spend a day in the life of your target audience to truly understand their pain

  • Add a simple appointment booking add-on through Wix

  • Offer the services for free until you figure out if people want it

  • Book your own Facebook ads, see what copy works and which images work, find out how many people are in your target audience and how much it will cost to acquire them

  • Don’t stop, adapt. If you don’t get what you expected, you may hit on something else. Otherwise, define something new.

  • Keep a budget, put a time limit around your experiments and have some fun.




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