A lot has been said about the need to embrace failure as a natural and healthy part of business life (and personal life). In the world of David (startups) and Goliath (corporations), there’s no question who has the edge in terms of adopting and integrating failure into operations.

“Fail fast” has become part of the startup vernacular, thanks to Lean Startup and Lean Startup Machine philosophy, pivoting around “pivoting.” In truth, this shouldn’t be a shock to sluggish corporations, who have long practiced the dark arts of direct marketing or at the very minimum, “Test, learn, evolve.”

How is it startups can take risks, pivot, fail, and still find success?  Why can’t brands do the same? Where’s the disconnect?

In this day and age, where Millennials are growing up with the concept of failure about as foreign as our Congress actually agreeing on anything, there is an epidemic of sorts when it comes to establishing practices that encourage people to take calculated bets or educated gambles -- put simply, to be risk-takers.



And nowhere is this as prevalent as in the mighty corporations that are home to the world’s leading brands that we know and love, and keep many of us in business. Due to a perfect storm of variables (compensation, tenure, politics, measurement, zero-sum budget setting, planning cycles), our business leaders have become shadows of their potential -- mignons of mediocrity, subscribing to a bar set really low (and still barely meeting its expectations).

Innovation is one of the most overused terms and misunderstood areas of interest right now, but it’s all very superficial and anemic in terms of investment, commitment and prioritization. Within corporations, small blips of hope are present in the form of people with the word “Innovation” in their titles, but they are few and far between. They are reincarnations of “Digital Evangelist,” “Social Evangelist” or “Mobile Evangelist.”  They are cheerleaders without portfolios, overdosing on enthusiasm but flatlining on influence.

The money still sits at the brand level, stewarded by frogs slowly boiling to death in their own lethargy, fear of change and refusal to embrace failure (of course you are the exception).

So why not set up a risk budget? Or an innovation budget? Or even a failure budget?

As I once heard from Google’s Chief of Innovation, Alberto Savoia, while there’s no point in rewarding widespread failure, there’s equally no point in punishing it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you should disregard the importance of being accountable to tangible, measurable and valuable results. Return on investment is still the absolute cornerstone of great marketing. For every $1 spent, at least $1.10 should be earned in exchange. 

That said, what is the ROI on survival? How do you put a price tag on evolution? Survival of the fittest? Competitive differentiation?

“Fail Fast, but Succeed Faster” was the title of an October 2012 article in Forbes.  It should be our corporate marketing mantra in 2013 (and beyond)

It’s a new year, with new challenges, complexities and disruptive technology-infused trends. It’s time to get off our butts and make something happen. It’s time we recognize that failure is an inevitable part of the success formula in an incredibly dynamic and unpredictable business climate.

2 comments about "#FailFail".
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  1. Rick Monihan from None, January 3, 2013 at 10:24 a.m.

    Indeed, punishing failure is a fault. However, punishing the failure to learn from failure is justified. We are rarely victims of circumstance, but we are capable of learning from circumstance when it comes knocking as it inevitably does. Youth tends to lend an air of invincibility to the thought process, and typically encourages high risk, but the ability to learn from the failures that almost always accompany high risk tends to be associated with experience. We too readily accept failures as part of the "learning process" today - without actually ever learning anything from those failures. Georges Santayana was correct, and yet we've never taken the time to consider his words.

  2. Brad Stewart from Adjoy, January 3, 2013 at 3:35 p.m.

    Great insights, Joseph. And, a fantastic service that it seems you're offering with Evol8tion. Cheers.

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