Failure isn’t just an option, it’s a necessity

Matt Simpson
Expedition 46 Soyuz Launch
Source: Getty

"Failure is not an option” might be a good motivational slogan for Nasa engineers planning a space mission to Mars, but, as anyone who’s been involved with a startup knows, failure isn’t only an option – it’s a necessity.

As we head into an uncertain economic future in 2018, businesses have to be more agile and take more risks if they are to sail through these uncharted waters.

Established companies have long cast covetous eyes at the agility of startups: having the freedom to try out new ideas without the fear of failure or climbing over the brick walls of bureaucracy is a thrilling, if distant, dream for most managers.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Author and entrepreneur Eric Ries is globally known for talking about how organisations of all kinds can use entrepreneurial management to transform culture and drive long-term growth.

Ries came into Zone HQ to talk about his latest book, The Startup Way, recently. His view is that the “failure is not an option” outlook as absurd in an entrepreneurial world. Part of the challenge for an organisation wanting to embed startup ideas is educating senior execs about the causes of failure. Yes, incompetence may have played a part, or the strategy may have been wrong – but could the real cause have been the company’s internal process getting in the way of the team actually being able to do anything?

In today’s fast-paced, digital-first world, the gap between startups and established brands has effectively disappeared – any time a brand invests in a new product or service, it becomes a startup, and needs to act accordingly.

According to Ries’s philosophy, this means setting up a small “atomic” team with a distinct organisational structure to support it, and then giving it the means and freedom to experiment, innovate, continuously iterate its product, and decide whether to pivot or persevere. This team needs to be represented across the departments, so that means marketers, designers and even compliance being involved right from the start.

Change now happens faster, and more frequently. But if we acknowledge this from the outset, it can be an opportunity rather than a threat.

With Brexit looming, the year ahead is an uncertain one. The businesses which will come through this period unscathed will be the ones that keep their nerve and continue to invest and innovate. Doing nothing is not the safe choice. Companies of all sizes need to harness the creative minds within them and give them the opportunity to make their ideas a reality.

Related articles