Guest column: Success through failure?

Failure is not an option! How many times has this overused phrase been uttered in a 'rally-the-troops' company speech? Or how about this tried-and-true ditty: "This product is the future of our company!" This self-serving, win-one-for-the-gipper bravado has become a mainstay in the corporate technology world today.

Just once we would like to see a company issue an honest press release with statements like: "We developed this product as a trial entry into the market place"; or "This may not be exactly what the market wants, but it is only version 1 of a new product, and we will make version 2 much better."

Has the desire to score a touchdown on every play blinded organisations, including IT organisations, to the usefulness of an occasional failure? The speed of technological change coupled with the increasing fickleness of customers makes this the perfect time for organisations to be more open than ever before to risking limited failure -- especially when evaluating new and emerging markets.

Look at the current craze. Companies losing billions of dollars continue to be rewarded for taking risks that may not pay off for years, yet other organisations maintain strict rules about return on investment, acceptable payback periods and mandatory profit-margin levels. We are brainwashed into believing these rules exist to make our companies better and stronger. Managers at all levels need to stop staring at the bright light and spinning disks or be ready for unemployment.

Limited failures provide opportunities for organisational and employee growth. Without the ability to fail, individuals and organisations become stale, uninventive, stagnant and eventually useless.

Mindsets and processes that thrive on eliminating and avoiding risk may be slowly killing your company. Employees frustrated and afraid to take risks because of the consequences of failure provide little extra value to the organisation. After a while, these employees end up across the street working for a competitor willing to let them take a risk.

What organisations, especially IT- and e-commerce-centric entities, need is an environment that encourages smart risk-taking. Rather than considering a project a potential failure, because the market numbers are not high enough or the potential margin is below accepted norms, organisations should embrace the opportunity to learn what the market really wants and will pay for.

Now before our e-mail box becomes flooded with managers screaming: "How dare you tell my people to fail on purpose!" or "How can a company succeed if it is designed to accept failure?" we ask you to reread this column. We are talking about organisations needing to accept some higher levels of risk. Some markets cannot be quantified, analysed and put into neat little segments. It is in these new and emerging markets that organisations must be more open to taking smarter risks and learning from their failures.

Be careful, because the 'not invented here' syndrome could lead to an outbreak of a 'not a player in the market' disease strong enough to kill any company.

Briere is president and Heckart is vice president of TeleChoice, a consultancy in Boston. They can be reached at and

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