Turning Failure on its head - winning through the virtuous cycle

By Chris Cloud

A friend recently said that they tried something in their business. He said, “It’s something we had never tried before. We didn’t have high hopes for it. It was an experiment. It wasn’t exactly a booming success, but we learned a lot and as a result we’ll change some things next time.” 

It was an experiment.

I love this approach. Instead of saying, "That didn't go so well, let's never do that again." They viewed the entire endeavor as an experiment.  This allowed this business to gain intel and revisit what worked and what didn’t. They got better as a result.

If everything is “do or die” then:

  1. “Failing” is seen as fatal.
  2. Your mind becomes closed to potential unforeseen outcomes.
  3. Shame and despair can set in.

What if everything were run as an experiment, instead?

Viewing decisions as experiments: 

  • Fuels courage to innovate because no decision is final or fatal.
  • Keeps you and your team engaged in the process as an observer, like a scientist running a lab experiment.
  • Keeps momentum moving forward, rather than stagnating over perceived failure.
  • Ensures continual improvement, which as an entrepreneur or leader helps your organization stay one step ahead of the competition. I wouldn’t want to compete against an organization that was always getting better, would you? 
  • Keeps us humble and nimble, ready to confront the truth, rather than arrogant and stubborn.

In short, making decisions as experiments allows you to continually iterate and improve. The Deming Cycle illustrates this virtuous cycle perfectly.

Deming Cycle of continuous improvement 

Deming Cycle of continuous improvement 

What distinguishes great founders is not their adherence to some vision, but their humility in the face of the truth.

It’s easier to tell Zuck (Mark Zuckerberg) that he’s wrong than to tell the average noob founder. He’s not threatened by it. If he’s wrong, he wants to know.
— Paul Graham

What say you? Are there some things that shouldn’t be viewed as experiments?

For further reading and study

  • Fixed vs. growth mindset - Link
  • Kaisan continual improvement - Link 


Chris CloudComment