Why Failure Is a Better Option Than Never Trying
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In 1975, Steve Sasson invented the first digital camera. He was an engineer working at Kodak. At the time, Kodak held 85 percent of the U.S. camera sales market while commanding 90 percent of film sales. There was no other company as well-poised to take digital photography by storm. When Sasson introduced his invention to his managers, their very first reaction was, “Don’t tell anyone about it.” Organizational inertia shut down Kodak’s digital potential. With a structure focused on film sales, management failed to see digital as disruptive technology. Even in 1981, after Sony had introduced the first electronic camera and Kodak’s CEO had commissioned a market study to survey the impact, Kodak’s very own researchers concluded that digital would take nearly 20 years for consumers to adopt.
The rest of the story is a well-known model of business decline and failure. Today, post-bankruptcy, Kodak relies on a trove of patents it developed over 100-plus years as an industry innovator, and Kodak’s story is a staple of business classrooms everywhere.
This isn’t an uncommon failure.
IBM initially dismissed the personal computer as a toy; once an electronics icon, Radio Shack is out of business; and in the 1990s, poised to take control of internet shopping, the most successful mail-in retailer of all time, Sears, decided to double-down on brick-and-mortar stores.
To explain their failure, you should take this lesson in why groundbreaking ideas almost always come out of nowhere:
Astonishing success requires moonshots.
When it comes to business as usual, go ahead and let your organizational inertia set your agenda. But if you want to stand out, create an astonishing level of success and truly revolutionize your industry, you need to take a page from the world’s greatest superachievers and business leaders…
Set big goals. Go for the moon. Big goals always lead to better outcomes and the reason why is simple:
Related: Afraid of Risks? How to Be Bolder
Moonshot goals often result in failure, but that’s OK.
When you create a high, hard and nearly-impossible-to-achieve goal, you are setting yourself up for failure. Yes, that’s right. I said, “You are setting yourself up for failure.”
But right now, I want you to take a step back and get over always being right. Because focusing your attention on a single, high, hard-hitting outcome will accomplish two important things.
First, you will be able to focus your attention on something greater. Now more than ever, we’re discovering the power of intrinsic rewards. Instead of incentivizing success and punishing failure, you’ll pair performance with purpose—the pursuit of something greater.
Second, big goals increase persistence. You will be more willing to try if you’ve already failed twice, three times or even 100 times before. With this in mind, ask yourself this:
Is fear of failure a reason why the best ideas are developed in isolation?
Sometime in 1980, Steve Jobs leased a building behind the restaurant he ate lunch in every day. He put a team of 20 designers together. He locked them (far enough) away from Apple headquarters. He gave them free rein to fail in pursuit of an audacious goal.
They invented the Macintosh computer.
Alphabet Inc.’s “X” organization (formerly Google X) actually call their goals “moonshots,” working independently and secretively on self-driving cars, Project Wing, Project Loon and others.
The stories behind nearly half of today’s shockingly successful “out of nowhere” startups begin with a college student who has nothing to lose by going for broke in his dorm room.
Innovation born isolated from your corporate culture, protected from failure and guided by moonshot goals are the reason why you should:
Fail like they do in Silicon Valley—be bold and go big.
Don’t fear failure in pursuit of your moonshot goals. If you do, you risk letting organizational inertia, outdated thinking or apprehension overturn your ability to take your business, your career and personal goals to the next level. Today the world’s biggest tech companies create cultures of failure encouragement, building teams free from the inertia of organizations, with massive goals capable of changing the world. There’s a lot to learn from this model, including one of the all-time favorites, “When you fail, make sure you fail forward.”
If you’re not taking risks because you’re afraid of failure, now is the time to start.