By John Wechsler, Founder & CEO of Launch Fishers
It seems impossible that Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper job for “lacking imagination” and “having no original ideas,” that Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team or that The Beatles were rejected for a recording contract on the rationale that “they had no future in the music business.” But would any of these stars have attained greatness without these failures?
I think not. In fact, striving for failure is a valuable ritual and is a critical part of achieving success. This is the kind of message successful entrepreneurs and public figures share at Failfest, an annual celebration of failure that brings together entrepreneurs in Indiana. The event, hosted by co-working space and community Launch Fishers, helps innovators gain perspective and empowerment from failure.
The event’s biggest takeaway? Innovative organizations don’t fear failure. Here are four ways you can use it to your advantage:
1. Plan for failure by making “learning” a priority.
Planning to fail is actually more involved than just expecting it. This step involves changing your perspective about what failure is and allowing time and space for it to occur.
When you reposition failure as a learning opportunity and budget time and resources for “learning,” the entire organization can rally around the concept in a more constructive way. In the same vein, consider rewarding “learning” by building success metrics around process and performance. Repeating a successful process will ultimately result in successful performance, so why not create a culture of doing the right work the right way?
2. Don’t too caught up in early prototypes.
It’s easy to fall in love with your idea and believe it will work. But it’s critical to get input, encourage ideas and keep perfecting. Your product, service or concept needs to evolve in order for it to become well adopted.
Inventor Norm Larson understood this concept; he didn’t get his product right until the 40th iteration and it now sits in 80 percent of American households. Norm Larson created WD40.
How can you be objective and distance yourself from early prototypes? Encourage ideas from anywhere and everywhere. Some of the best ideas may bubble up from the front lines: people in customer service, reception, sales and other positions that deal directly and initially with stakeholders. The best thing leaders can do is listen to ideas that come from all areas in the company and create a way for departments to share them.
3. Get out of the building — and out of your industry.
Great ideas usually don’t come to you when you are sitting at your desk; they come from conversations with people about their experience. Find out about the problems people face and consider how you can solve that pain. It’s a simple concept and the basis of creating a successful product or service.
True innovation comes, however, when you look at other industries for inspiration. What brands, products and innovations inspire you as a consumer? Are there parallels you can use in your industry? How could you adapt the approach?
4. Don’t give up.
Keep in mind: if Edison threw up his hands and gave up after 9,999 failures, there would be no lightbulb. If Howard Schultz gave up after being turned down by banks 242 times, there would be no Starbucks. If J.K. Rowling stopped after being turned down by multiple publishers for years, there would be no Harry Potter.
The most important way you can continue to fail the right way is to keep going. If you fail, fail again. Our society has created unnecessary baggage around failure–It doesn’t need to be an embarrassing, terrible thing. The more comfortable we get with the role of failure in advancing ideas, products and companies, the more innovation we will see in the world.
John Wechsler is the founder of Launch Fishers and an active advisor to entrepreneurs and startup teams. He has founded, co-founded or served in C-level roles in several high-growth and venture-backed startups, including Formstack, Formspring, DeveloperTown, Vontoo, Wishoo and beenz.