Why, all of a sudden, are so many successful business leaders urging their companies and colleagues to make more mistakes and embrace more failures?
In May, right after he became CEO of Coca-Cola Co., James Quincey called upon rank-and-file managers to get beyond the fear of failure that had dogged the company since the “New Coke” fiasco of so many years ago. “If we’re not making mistakes,” he insisted, “we’re not trying hard enough.”
In June, even as his company was enjoying unparalleled success with its subscribers, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings worried that his fabulously valuable streaming service had too many hit shows and was canceling too few new shows. “Our hit ratio is too high right now,” he told a technology conference. “We have to take more risk…to try more crazy things…we should have a higher cancel rate overall.”
Even Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, arguably the most successful entrepreneur in the world, makes the case as directly as he can that his company’s growth and innovation is built on its failures. “If you’re going to take bold bets, they’re going to be experiments,” he explained shortly after Amazon bought Whole Foods. “And if they’re experiments, you don’t know ahead of time if they’re going to work. Experiments are by their very nature prone to failure. But a few big successes compensate for dozens and dozens of things that didn’t work.”
The message from these CEOs is as easy to understand as it is hard for most of us to put into practice. I can’t tell you how many business leaders I meet, how many organizations I visit, that espouse the virtues of innovation and creativity. Yet so many of these same leaders and organizations live in fear of mistakes, missteps, and disappointments — which is why they have so little innovation and creativity. If you’re not prepared to fail, you’re not prepared to learn. And unless people and organizations manage to keep learning as fast as the world is changing, they’ll never keep growing and evolving.
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