Failure is an orphan

“Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”

– John F. Kennedy

If you’ve been on the receiving end of consulting firm or marketing agency pitches, perhaps you’ve noticed multiple firms taking credit for the same work.

Or maybe you’ve been part of an event celebrating the launch of an exciting new venture and witnessed how suddenly everybody wants to participate or to extol their contribution.

My personal favorite is the CMO who relentlessly bashed a new business idea we had, did absolutely no work on the project and then showed up uninvited to our launch PR event –which was in a different city than our headquarters–and managed to insert himself in between our CEO and the head of our new venture just as the press started snapping pictures. There he was the next day on the front page of Women’s Wear Daily and Ad Age beaming. And so it goes.

Of course when something fails, everyone scuttles like cockroaches when the lights come on. And it’s not typically not very hard to find someone to tell you that they knew what a stupid idea it was all along.

But when was the last time you celebrated a noble failure?

When was the last time someone in your organization got promoted or received a bonus because they were willing to take a smart risk, rather than sitting back until it became obvious or completely safe to act.

Conversely, when when the last time a Board fired a CEO for moving too slowly to counter-act industry disruption or for not doing enough experimenting?

Yes, there are plenty of ill-conceived ventures that should never have seen the light of day or should have been approached in a fundamentally different way.

But I’d wager there are far more projects that should have been started, but weren’t because individuals or organizations were too afraid of failure.

Without the risk of failure there is no innovation. And without innovation you and your company are likely toast.

In reality failure needs more friends, more cousins, more Godfathers, more parents.

It’s time to embrace experimentation, not resist it.

It’s time to adopt failure, not shun it.

Oh, and pro-tip: This works for personal relationships as well.


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