Dealing with failure
Does how we manage failure need to change? From a young age we are encouraged to learn from our mistakes but how much should we be discouraged from making those mistakes? The classic example is a child being burnt when touching something hot. Naturally parents will try and prevent it happening and teach dangers but eventually we all disobey and learn the hard way. As we get older and into professional life and especially, corporate life, the openness to learning by mistakes falls away. There are two potential pitfalls that arise from this: firstly, risk averseness and secondly, and potentially far more damaging, is dishonesty through the desire to hide mistakes.
I wonder how many people have begun to realise they have made a mistake but carried on what they were doing regardless for fear of admitting to that mistake? In finance this is the equivalent of buying into a company on the conviction that it will be a success but holding onto it out of bloody-mindedness when it doesn’t deliver, furthering your losses.
However, in marketing both of these results of a fear of mistakes fly in the face of exactly what you are trying to achieve. Being risk averse normally translates into an instinct to blend in with what your competitors are doing, as it feels safe. Actually this is the greatest risk, if you look like everyone else it may seem less risky as it fits an existing paradigm. In reality it is more risky as the campaign will not stand out and therefore not deliver to its full potential. A campaign that doesn’t achieve the desired results can lead directly to the next risk from fear of failure, the inclination to “massage” the results to appear favourable. That self-delusion inhibits real learning and encourages conservatism, you get stuck in a feedback loop of potentially diminished returns.
To return to the child touching something hot analogy, yes it’s right to teach a child that a saucepan is hot and dangerous to touch. But keep them out of the kitchen altogether and they will never be a great chef, and if they tell you they can cook. They’re lying.
Maybe in business we should use a more scientific approach, use well–informed experiments to test a thesis and accept that if the experiment doesn’t do what you wanted, don’t be dispirited and make sure you have learned something from it.