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Using the “F” word in Business

I had the honor of presenting to a group of budding entrepreneurs  this past week at a local (Raleigh, NC) Council for Entrepreneurial  Development Fastrak course.  I spoke on Market Analysis and followed an NC State Graduate  School Instructor who presented an overview of Market Research.  He  ended his 60 minute lecture by introducing me as the person who would  explain “what to do with all of the Market Research that everyone in the  room was now equipped to gather”. 

Feeling the pressure, I stood up in front of the room, scanned the  crowd, took a deep breath and started my presentation with… the “F”  word.  

Fail!  Fail as fast as you can and move on from there.   

(You didn’t seriously think I was going to drop the “F bomb” on my blog did you???)

My point was that no amount of market research and analysis would  survive its first contact with the actual market.   The sooner they  learned where the problems in their plans were, the sooner they could  start dealing with them.  That’s true for software, projects and  businesses alike.

I went on to explain how important embracing failure was to our  culture at b2b2dot0.  So much so, that our whole product development and  service implementation methodologies are centered around failure.  We  develop a minimally viable product (MVP) as quickly as possible and “threaten to put it into production”  in front of real clients and their customers.  We fully expect not to be  able to implement our MVP, nevertheless, we ask them why they can’t use  the software as is and their answers are our roadmap to success.

I can’t believe how much push back I got from the class.  They were incredulous that I would not only allow for failure in our business, but embrace it! I spent the remainder of my time in front of them defending my love of failure.

The next day, the universe came to my support and presented me with  two timely magazines that  bubbled up to the top of my reading pile:

  1. Harvard Business Review (HBR)(April 2011) – The Failure Issue – How to Understand it, Learn from it, and Recover from it.
  2. Inc Magazine (February 2011) – Inside the Minds of Great Entreprenuers 

Every article in the HBR issue was a great read, but for those of you  that don’t have a subscription to the journal, you should at least read  the free interview with A.G. Lafley, the ex-CEO of Proctor and Gamble entitled “I think of my Failures as a Gift”.  According to Mr. Lafley;

“Failure is, in my view, all about learning. It’s about learning what you can do better.”

The “How Great Entreprenuers Think” article by Leigh Buchanan was a wonderful summary of must read research  conducted by Saras Sarasvathy, a professor at the University of  Virginia’s Darden School of Business.  I love this “Sam’s philosophy of  failure” supporting quote from one of the study participants:

“Ultimately, the best test of any product is to go to your target   market and pretend like it’s a real business. You’ll find out soon   enough if it is or not. You have to take some risks. You can sit and   analyze these different markets forever and ever and ever, and you’d get   all these wonderful answers, and they still may be wrong. The problem   with the businessman type is they spend a lot of time with all their   great wisdom and all their spreadsheets and all their Harvard Business  Review people, and they’d either become convinced that there’s  no market at  all or that they have the market nailed. And they’d go out  there big  time, with a lot of expensive advertising and upfront costs,  because  they’re gonna overwhelm the market, and the business would go  under.”

Moral of this story?  Perfection is the enemy of the good.  Go ahead and give failure a try.


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  • I would say it very well re-emphasizes the words of Mr. Bill Gates :”Making mistakes is not the problem. Repeating mistakes is the problem.”
    I think we should know the circumstances/situation in which we did the mistakes and remember them, so that we don’t repeat them.


    With Regards,
    Kumud Singh

  • Mistakes mean we are pushing ourselves into new areas.   How boring would our jobs be just repeating the same things over and over.  We may never have another mistake, but then again we wouldn’t have any fun!


    • This is pretty merry go round kind of comment Michelle, but somehow made me smile.
      But crux of the matter stands tall for me,”Enjoy the work but please don’t repeat the same mistake”.