ROI By FJR:Failing Smart

R.O.I. By Frank J. Rich

Failing Smart

February 12th, 2013
Enterprise models often emphasize quick results. Why? The market moves more quickly today than ever, technology forces disruptive change, and innovations are increasingly more destructive (in the short term) than productive. Even the hint of technology advancement (for its effect on the use model) is often enough to stall sales of it. Yet, to effect a market with a new product idea or advancement takes an average of two years. It’s much the same to establish a new business of most any kind. How, then, do we manage the uncertain task of delivering new products to market and new enterprises of promise?


Many of us build our toys two to three times, an errant determinism that shuns a careful review of the directions. We’re just built that way, especially men. We are experimenters, not unlike Thomas Edison, who preferred to view the 10,000 attempts at an incandescent light bulb as experiments and not failures. Perhaps, his optimism, or sheer determination, a rose by another name, was sufficient to chase defeat, or at least the blahs, propelling him to achieve his goal of lighting the communities of America inexpensively. And, in the process, proving “planned failure” as a model of achievement.


Most of the experiments worked, however briefly, and then one in so many thousands remained lit and its filament burned into the darkness for 15 hours.


We are experimenters, and thus fail many more times than we succeed, managing failure more than anything else along the way. In the enterprise world, “willingness to fail” is key. Risk-taking is the underlying principle in enterprise. (Not willing to take risks? Work for the post office.)


Few succeed without knowing failure. It is the great educator, or so said many of the most successful people in history.


More specifically, we are coded by our senses to test things before we plunge: we smell food before we eat, look before we leap, listen before we step, taste before we swallow, feel before we engage. It’s how we do what we do; we lead with our senses, gather data along the way, come to consensus with ourselves, then with others, and make an informed decision … to try something, to do something, to move. “Nothing happens until something moves,” said Einstein.


Failing is making one’s bones, the ante in enterprise, the lottery ticket that never comes in, until it does, the imperative that fuels enterprise.


Fail small, fail frequently, and fast, leaving with the education and preparation to attack the market and win. This is the place where “fear of failure” owns no stock, where “test, learn, evolve” is the only winning number. Absent this approach all is at risk – insight into the future, assessment, adjustment, and redirection.


Now what? The silver lining in this prodigious model is that it is ready-made for the nimble, the incisive: small business. The irony in this simple model is the nature of survival, the emotion that “big business” never feels. An emotion so common to small business that it “bets the business” routinely, so survival loses its sting. Daniel beat the emperor’s threat by challenging it, David slayed the giant no other would face, Samson gave it all to regain his strength.


Betting it all is what small business eats for breakfast and big business can’t stomach.

Plan, strategize, forecast; it’s not in the DNA of small business. But neither is slow to move, organizational dissonance, excuse-making, and the ol’ “CYA.”


The simple truth is that small business is better endowed to compete with “big business” than it realizes. Why? Because it feels. And that causes movement, the kind that makes things happen. Einstein knew.


Failure is really only failure when it is nothing else. Failing “good” is the desired outcome, when learning is the result. These are the failures made before the competition enjoys them, before they get to learn from their errors, and before they get to adjust and redirect. This is failing smart, the blood of small business. Failing smart is how it wins, how it learns to do today what big business won’t, so that later on it is doing what big business can’t.


But you knew that, didn’t you?

Frank Rich is founder and CEO of Encore Príst International, an organizational development company that helps individuals and organizations reach their full potential through the practice of effective business fundamentals. You may reach him at, or by phone at 866/858-4EPI.To read other ROIs in their entirety, go to Business tab at


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