Every business strives to succeed. After all, we’re in business to make a profit. But there is no straightforward formula that will guarantee business success. There are times that we will fail and it’s inevitable. Traditional companies would shy away from failure as if it isn’t in their vocabulary. So they take the smallest risks or avoid them altogether and end up with mediocre results.

But a new era of thinking is changing the way businesses deal with failure. This is most notable in Silicon Valley where the words “Fail fast. Fail often.” have taken popularity. Increasingly you can hear these words from CEOs of non-tech companies. It’s become more of a buzzword, like Agile and Lean. But we must clarify what failure means in this context and why business failure can be good for an organization.

Navigating Between Good and Bad Failure

Of course, not all failure should be glorified. The words “fail fast, fail often” don’t mean that we shouldn’t aim for success or that it’s okay to always fail. What it means is iteratively testing our ideas for viability. Instead of perfecting the solution, it’s better to test it earlier so we get feedback faster. The key here is getting feedback out of the experiment. The faster we get feedback, the earlier we can confirm whether we’re in the right direction towards the desired outcome.

This is what characterizes good failure. When failure allows you to get feedback and use that feedback to drive your next decisions, then it’s considered good failure. While your desired outcome was not achieved, you were able to determine how you can better work your way towards achieving it. Failure, in this case, has become useful.

On the other hand, when failure is the result of careless decisions or a lack of trying, then it’s considered as bad failure. Bad failure often happens when you don’t know what it is you’re trying to achieve or when you’ve not planned how you’ll execute your idea. When failure leads to more failure, then you’re gravely in bad shape.

To work your way towards good failure, you need to ensure that you’re performing your projects in a systematic and organized way. Your objectives need to be clear as this will determine how you can move forward. Treat your projects as controlled experiments where you have a system to test your hypothesis. At the end of the experiment, reflect on what it has taught you and use that to fuel your next actions.

Failure Comes with Innovation

To come up with breakthroughs, it’s inevitable that there will be breakdowns along the way. You’ll stumble. You’ll fail. But that doesn’t mean you won’t get up. As Thomas Edison said about his failed attempts at making the lightbulb he’s known for, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

Failure should be taken as a learning experience. Don’t be afraid to take risks, but don’t be too careless either. Take the time to plan how you’ll execute your projects. Set clear goals for you and your team. This way, all efforts will be towards achieving those goals. If failure comes along the way, you’ll know how to deal with it.

“It’s impossible to fail if you learn from your mistakes. Don’t give up.”  ~ Steve Jobs

While success should be the goal, the failure that comes with the process to get to success should be embraced. All the innovative breakthroughs in history were not made overnight. They were not made through a single attempt. Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, and Walt Disney – these innovators were not immediately successful. They had to work through failure after failure until they found a way that worked. They were guided by their mistakes and that led them to make the right decisions for their businesses.

What’s important is how you treat failure and bouncing back from it.

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About the Author: Lena Boiser

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Lena Boiser is an Agile enthusiast. Starting off her career as a Software Business Analyst in 2010, she eventually performed other roles including Project Manager and IT Business Manager. When she was immersed in Agile methodologies in 2014, Lena found her way through honing her craft and eventually became a Certified Scrum Product Owner. In 2017, after 7 years of working in the corporate world, Lena started her own remote consulting practice. Today, she provides project management and Scrum Product Ownership services to various businesses including software development companies, e-Commerce business owners, and small to medium sized companies. She believes that even teams working remotely can harness the benefits of Agile in order to deliver results for their companies. In her free time she likes to write. One day she could be writing about Agile, the next she could be writing anything about fashion or travel.

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