You see a lot of quotes like this:
“Here are six random ideas that will help you fail better, more often and with an inevitably positive upside…”
A search on google for “failing is good” reveals a wealth of results:
You see a lot of tweets like this: The only way to truly fail is to never try. You don’t hit 100% of the pitches you don’t swing at.
In fact, the romanticization of failure is such a thorn in my side that I actually ended up getting up on my soapbox about it in my review of Seth Godin’s Poke the Box.
To be fair, a lot of the blog posts and tweets and quotes out there are, I’m sure, meant to be inspirational. But it seems like we’ve gotten a little carried away, or a little separated from reality. The fact is that if you are in the business world, or if you are a marketer who is working with successful companies who want to stay successful, failure can actually be a really huge problem.
Consider this post from 2007 outlining some of the most famous product failures of all time. As the post aptly points out, failure in this case is not about a learning experience. These companies spent millions of dollars creating and then promoting these products. Would you want to say to your boss, “Well…at least we went for it!”? I am thinking that might not go over too well.
The personal versus the professional
A lot of folks in the world of social media talk about “Just going for it.” In your own personal life, that can be a fantastic philosophy. In fact, for a lot of people that push to try new things or to go out on a limb in some way can be almost lifesaving. If you’re worried about meeting new people, for example, pushing yourself to get involved in an organization can be very empowering for you. If you are worried about exercising, pushing yourself to do that can improve your life in all sorts of ways. If you don’t succeed in meeting a friendly person your first time out you can analyze why. If you don’t keep up with your exercise regimen, you can evaluate what you did to hold yourself back. You can learn from failing. You can learn from your mistakes. To a point.
Of course, there are even limits here. If you push yourself to a point where failing means that you lose a limb or fall to your death, learning from the experience is going to be a bit tricker, I’d wager.
But professionally, these days, going out on a limb can be considered reckless in a lot of scenarios.
In the world I come from, the agency world, failure is definitely not something that you want to equate with “a lesson well learned” or “a golden opportunity to grow.” In fact, that’s the reality for a lot of businesses today. The world is competitive. If you fail at your job, you know that there are literally thousands of people who will apply if you need to be replaced. Is that sexy? If your company fails to win a huge new partnership or a huge new product deal and your competitor wins, is that sexy? Will you reflect on what you learned from that experience? Maybe eventually, but it will take a long time for that dust to settle, right?
Of course, the biggest failure myth is that trying a new social media platform for your marketing campaign is a lot better than not trying at all, regardless of the final outcome. The latest splurge of posts on this topic focuses on Pinterest. Just as we heard with Foursquare and Quora and Google Plus, the posts are out there saying that if you are not claiming your Pinterest presence now, you will probably blow up. Spontaneously. It doesn’t matter if you fail there. It just matters that you try it (darn it)!
Of course, the teeny weeny problem with this online philosophy is that trying those new platforms still takes time, and as we all know, time equals money. If you or one of your employees dumps 3 months into trying a new platform and you don’t get a single lead, not to mention a single sale, what have you accomplished? Well, you lost a heckuva lot of money paying that person’s salary, for one thing. Your company might look kind of like a doofus, and many experts agree that a company looking like a doofus is not a good thing. In a worst case scenario, your efforts could really blow up thanks to a lack of knowledge or expertise and you could end up with a costly PR disaster on your hands.
Is this sounding particularly sexy to you? I’m kind of shaking in my wee boots right about now just thinking about it.
So what am I missing here? Is failure really sexy and I’m just not getting it? Is there some other angle that I am failing to understand?
Fill me in!
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaxsilver/4766356883/ via Creative Commons