Sunday, April 27

Risk and Failure

The ability for a company or an entrepreneur to try out new ideas quickly can be key to their success. Even more of a factor is their ability to see at the earliest possible stage when their ideas are not going to succeed and abandon them with the minimal loss of time and money. This could be through analysis of the situation, or simply because the venture failed dramatically.

One of the advantages young companies have is the speed in which they can act, and bring new ideas to market, without the need for lengthy corporate analysis and countless review boards. Ideas can be generated in a morning, and testing by the afternoon to see whether they should move forward with a plan of action. It’s this quick turnaround that can be the difference between success and failure in today’s fast moving markets.

However the challenge comes when deciding which ideas to pursue, and how far to take them before either more resources are allocated, or the project is sidelined before it eats up too much money, or just looks like it’s not going to be as successful as necessary to make it worthwhile. The techniques that can be implemented in doing this, include bootstrapping the venture, outsourcing development work, small scale – holistic testing and keeping flexible in the face of changes; so generally everything that successful entrepreneurial companies do anyway.

What these policies encourage within a company is to try many new things, and test how well they work, or in many cases don’t work. By learning from failures the company is in a better position to go forward, learning from these lessons. If the company is able to do this using minimal time, money and other resources then even if the venture is a failure then they have been successful. This can give them huge advantage over large companies that don’t have the ability to do this, and must produce piles of extensive and expensive market validation, and consumer feedback before even contemplating going to market with a new product.

As Randy Komisar puts it, “Innovation is about taking risks to do things that haven’t been done before” and goes on to rightly describe that if you could understand which ventures were going to succeed before you did them, then there would be no need for innovative companies, as the giants of the world would simply be able to pick them first. As long as the business models (and share holders) of large companies aren’t able to put up with the amount of failure required for innovation then there is space for entrepreneurs to take the risks necessary for success.

How entrepreneurs deal with failure can go as deep as the cultural level, with areas such as US and China having a much more positive outlook on failure than other areas such as Western Europe and India. The ability to fail in business, even go as far as to plan to fail, is a key discerning factor for success in the fast moving business world of today. You only need to look at companies such as Google, Facebook to see how many times they stumbled to get to where they are today, whilst searching for the killer business models that has got them to where they are and it shows how important failure can be, but more importantly is the ability to adapt and learn from failure.

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