January 29, 2014


By: Amy Jo Martin

I’ve become a professional student of failure. I figure the better students of failure we become, the more successful we’ll become. Here are a few notes I’ve taken while getting schooled:

Failure is not a stigma; it’s a badge of honor. I recently had the opportunity to list to Gopi Kallayil, Chief Evangelist at Google, talk about innovation. He said, “We don’t fail, we morph. We launch often and early – ship and iterate.” For example, gmail was in beta for five years. They didn’t wait for perfection; instead they focused on constant improvement. The first Google Glass prototype took 90 minutes to build, and it looked like ski goggles (shown below). The quicker we fail, the quicker we learn how to improve. Every time we fail, we end up taking knowledge from that situation and applying it to the next project, solution or concept.


You’d be surprised at the long list of products that have been killed at Google, not to mention the 72 projects have been publicly killed. Someone has even been kind enough to create a virtual burial ground for all the RIP Google products.

It helps if we better understand the process of learning. I just read The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle and he explains that the secret behind getting really good at something is by understanding how to fail smarter. The struggle (mini, frequent failures) we go through when learning is what accelerates the process of learning – there’s a physiological effect that happens during this process and Coyle refers to it as Deep Practice. Plenty of science involved in the process and I’ll spare you the details for now but encourage you to read the book.

So, creating a culture of failure is one of the most important concepts of creating an innovative culture. If we know we can become more talented by failing more frequently, isolating the weak spots and focusing on them until they improve, then we should celebrate, (or at least talk about our failures more) right? Here are a few ways:

Celebrate Blessons – At Digital Royalty, lessons plus blessings equal blessons and we celebrate them! In our team huddles we have a point in the meetings where blessons are shared. It becomes a moment of pride because we’re helping our fellow teammates out by allowing them to learn from our lessons and leapfrog our mistakes.

Document Failures – Not only should we document our failures but also the lessons learned from those failures. You can create a Wall of Failure in your office or home, keep a list of failures, post your failures on your refrigerator, or your home screen on your mobile phone, just make sure to post the lessons learned as well. Want to learn more about failure walls and see some specific examples? Here ya go.

Semantics – Sometimes the word “fail” trips us up due to the negative connotation. A few other handy, and somewhat cheeky, synonyms and phrases to replace that evil word: false step, non-success, non-performance, stalemate, “I tripped”, “I’m sailing through a lesson at the moment”, “It’s time to pivot”.

As mentioned in Renegades Write the Rules:

“Fail early so when everyone else jumps on the bandwagon, their best practices are being polished while others’ are just starting to fail. Sometimes it’s not about being the best or smartest; it’s about being the first to try and the first to learn from failure.”


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