Failure is experience on the way to success

Don Dodge · May 15, 2011 · Short URL:

At Google we say, 'Achieving 65% of the impossible is better than 100% of the ordinary'

Failure gets a bad rap. It is actually an important element of success. When I speak at conferences around the world, I say "In America, we don't use the word failure. We call it experience."

You learn far more from failure than you do from success. And those lessons from failure are what prepares you for success.

At Google, we say "achieving 65% of the impossible is better than 100% of the ordinary". At many companies achieving 65% of your goals would result in getting fired. At Google if you achieve over 85% of your goals you are clearly not aiming high enough, and will be encouraged to be more aggressive. Think about the trajectory required to hit a target 100 feet of the ground versus a target 1,000 feet off the ground. The point is that by aiming high, even if you miss, you will be in a much better position than if you aimed at modest goals.

Failure is not an option - An exec at a large European financial company told me his former CEO believed “Failure is not an option." Great, I thought. This means they will do whatever it takes to succeed, try five or 10 different approaches until it works, get the whole company focused on the goal, etc.

No, he told me. What it means is “Make a mistake and you are fired.” Wow! Another example of the difference between startups and big companies. I have worked most of my career in startups where you are always pushing the envelope, taking big risks, where there are no obvious answers, and you just keep trying until you find the combination that works.

Fail Fast – If you are going to fail, do it fast and move on to the next thing. More in depth thoughts here. The only thing better than a "Yes" is a quick "NO". When you are raising money, selling a customer, or trying to get a deal done, it is the long drawn out process that never ends that will kill you. It is the same thing with startups. Being successful is always the goal, but if it is going to fail...Fail fast.

Bill Warner, founder of Avid Technologies, Wildfire Communications, etc, said recently “Some of you guys are so smart you turn what should have been a one year failure into a five year death march.” Entrepreneurs are resourceful, smart, and have that indomitable spirit that doesn’t allow them to quit. This can be good and bad. Sometimes it is better to “fold” and move on to the next game.

Fine line between success and failure – There are no easy and obvious answers. If it were easy everyone would have already done it. Timing and luck play a big part in success…bigger than most people will admit. There are four key elements to success in any business; great people, great idea, great timing, and luck. If you don’t have any two of the four…you are probably going to fail. I have seen startups with great people and a great idea that were too early (timing), or had bad luck on things they couldn’t control. They failed. The same idea tried five years later succeeded. Timing matters. The market needs to be ready to adopt your ideas. The answer is never obvious. You don’t know for sure until you try.

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