The Power of Failure and How You Can Launch With It

Leadership Failure

Accepting failure and moving on to greater prospects is a sign of leadership.

In a previous post about company culture it was noted that leaders often have to make difficult decisions.

One of the most difficult decisions leaders need to make is stopping a bad investment.

The examples given included some hyped Google products – Wave and Buzz. If you haven’t heard of these products, don’t worry: Google pulled them from the web almost as quickly as they launched.

It’s a hallmark of strong leadership when a company is able to pull products and services when they see that things aren’t going to work out. The tendency is to try and persevere to make the product work, but those efforts usually result in a lot of lost money and energy. 

Taking Things Too Far

Polaroid was one of the most successful companies in the world for decades. They had achieved the Holy Grail of marketing – when consumers refer to their product as if it were the name of the item.

Instead of saying, “photo” or “picture” people would instead say “Polaroid”.

Heading into the 1980s and 1990s it seemed impossible that a company of Polaroid’s stature would suffer one of the biggest downfalls in the history of business.

It would make sense that a company well versed in photography would be well positioned to make the move from printed photos into the world of digital photography. And Polaroid was one of the first to make a move into digital, but attempts continued to fail.

The company pushed on with its efforts to get people to continue to print photos. The results failed, but they kept at it. Polaroid filed for bankruptcy in 2001 ending an era of success.

By taking things too far with film, Polaroid completely missed an opportunity in digital photography, which has now evolved to people taking photos with their mobile devices. Even a service like Instagram, which puts digital filters on photos, is something Polaroid would have been able to do had its leaders been able to realise that current efforts were not working so they could move on to other worthwhile investments.

We discussed Apple Computers before. The company and its leaders offer great examples of how businesses operate in today’s world.

In the 1980’s, Steve Jobs was heavily involved with creating the computer called Lisa. It was a contentious project that Jobs wanted to succeed. When the computer was launched it bombed badly. But instead of persisting with it, Apple pulled the product and started again. The next product was the hugely successful Macintosh. It was the direct result of quitting a failing product and putting attention elsewhere.

Steve Jobs had to be forced out of the Lisa project when it became apparent to Apple’s leaders that it would not succeed.

Jobs later came back to the company in the 1990’s. This time, he had learned the lesson about taking projects too far. Jobs came to Apple and immediately closed failing projects including the Newton.

Apple has gone on to become one of the most successful companies of all time.

It’s easy to take things too far with business ideas. We have visions for success and we don’t want to see our pet projects, our babies fail.

This can cause us to take projects too far. Even when the writing is on the wall and there is little chance of success we often push on. Throwing good money after bad. Ego is involved. Reputations are on the line. We don’t want to be the person who failed a project.

Showing Leadership By Changing Direction

Google Wave was an attempt to give people more ways to communicate online. It was an ambitious product with lots of promise. But just a year after being released to the public, Google shut the doors on Wave and focused efforts elsewhere.

Google Buzz was an even more ambitious product that aimed to connect people based on contacts they already had within email and other products within Google. The company caught some heat when Buzz first launched and Buzz seemed doomed from the start.

Both products were great ideas from within one of the most successful companies in the world. Yet both products lasted less than two years.

In the official blog post about Wave, Google said:

We were equally jazzed about Google Wave internally, even though we weren’t quite sure how users would respond to this radically different kind of communication.

But despite these wins, and numerous loyal fans, Wave has not seen the user adoption we would have liked.

It’s easy to look back now and see that these two products were failures, but when people look at Google they don’t think about those failures. They think about the success the company has had with its main products.

Search and Advertising has been the foundation of Google’s business for more than a decade. In recent year’s they’ve had success with the Android mobile computing system and the Chrome browser, which has quickly become one of the most popular browsers in the world.

Since 2011, Google has closed 70 products in an effort to focus more on the products that make the business most successful.

Google’s leadership seems to have the ability to accept failure. They see past initial failure. They learn from the mistakes and know that they can build on what they’ve learned to create better products.

This is difficult for people. It’s hard to admit defeat. These are business leaders that are used to having success. When something fails they don’t want to admit defeat.

It’s a sign of leadership to see the writing on the wall and close down something that is going to fail in order to move forward with something more worthy of the investment and energy.

Failure Is An Opportunity To Learn

Google Buzz may have failed, but it didn’t take long for Google to rebound. Not long after the closure of Buzz, Google launched the plug one sharing button along with the social networking and profile engine, Google+.

While the names were confusing initially, both have gone on to be successful for Google.

Google Co-Founder @sergeybrinn helped launch Google Buzz, but he knew when to call it quits and move on to other products (tweet this)

Even when you take calculated risks in business you’ll still have failures. There is no way to avoid it unless you sit at home and do nothing.

People are generally afraid of what people might think of them if they fail. The truth is that people overlook failures in favor of success.

Some of the greatest entrepreneurs and business people in history have had failures. Sports figures have had countless failures, but most are remembered more for their success.

You have a choice in your professional and personal life. You can avoid failure and play it safe. You might find a little success going this route, but chances are you won’t be happy with the way things turn out.

The other option is to take on some risk. You’ll experience failure, but if you know when to make a change and stop doing the things that led to failure you can move on to do something that is successful.

Learn from your failures. Know when to move on and your business career will flourish.

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