I recently had an interesting conversation with the president of a Fortune 500 company. While I can’t say who the company was, I’m compelled to share an aspect of our exchange that I found incredibly refreshing: his willingness to talk about all the things he’d recently tried that didn’t work. Attempts at motivating an influencer community to promote his products failed. An effort to try an alternative way of distributing discount coupons, track their redemption and reward the source failed. An investment in live events that would drive retail traffic failed.
Yet each anecdote about what didn’t work was immediately followed with, “But here’s what we learned.” Or, “However, in the process, we discovered what could work is….” Or, “We think we know exactly why it didn’t do what we’d hoped.”
The most impressive aspect of the conversation was a president’s willingness not only to share failures, but to actually present them as if they were the most normal event in the world. In fact, he got excited sharing initiatives that fell short of expectations. In his mind they weren’t something to regret; they were simply part of the learning process, a way to move closer to a program or an idea that would inevitably yield the desired results.
We live in an age where there is so much pressure to succeed. Every proposal and idea gets scrutinized, analyzed, and too often paralyzed. But there’s a real value in trying things, in experimenting, in taking a calculated chance. Who says everything has to work the first time? I got a sense from this company leader that he would succeed in achieving all of his goals sooner than most. In part because he knew the fastest way to get there was to fail a few times.
Photo: 1899 photo of Tesla seated by discharging Tesla coil, Dickenson V. Alley/Burndy Library, via nytimes.com