Almost nine years ago I had reentered the retail business after a fourteen year hiatus. The company I joined was just beginning a zealous journey to focus on the customer. The entire organization was determined to be more “customer centric” in every decision they made. They had gone so far as to identify six demographic target profiles that they were going to cater to. The goal was to get intimately familiar with each of these customer segments so that we could offer them the “best” and most appropriate goods and services. Some of those goods and services were already available but we were not aware of which customers needed them or why. In other circumstances we needed to be more innovative and seek out or create new products or service offerings. As we sought to delight the customer, we assumed that they would reciprocate by buying more or at least more profitable goods and services.
We have all seen the endless number of quotes on how we should fail more, fail quickly, and fail often but what do we actually do with all of these failures? If we are lucky we might actually take the time to learn from them but usually we quickly take stock in what happened and make a few mental notes to ensure that we don’t do it again. Rarely do we share the details of your our failures even with friends or family and we certainly would never think of revealing our failures with colleagues or perspective employers. Why do we have this inconsistency? We know that failure is a necessary part of learning and growing for both the organization and the individual but we never want to admit to our failures? If our resume is a collection of our successes… where is our failure resume?
With the dry weather this summer my backyard oak trees seem to have made a premature determination that fall has already arrived. How do I know this? By the amazing proliferation of acorns throughout my yard before August had even arrived. As fast as the acorns could fall the family of gray squirrels was scampering across my yard burying their new found bounty. Although food was abundant the squirrels were making the effort to bury these acorns for their future survival. While snow may come relatively early in Minnesota it wasn’t likely to start falling for at least three months but the squirrels weren’t waiting for even a moment to begin their work.
In early 2007 I was planning to launch my first Failure Forum. The forums were a series of presentations (modeled after TED talks) with an ensuing discussion that were meant to examine internal innovation projects that had been shut down. We sought to understand what had been accomplished with the project, what had we learned from it, and what would we do differently next time. The truth was that many of the innovation projects were modeled after previous work.
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