Using the “F” Word in Business

Written March 20th, 2011 by
Categories: CEO's Blog
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I had the honor of presenting to a group of budding entrepreneurs this past week at a local (Raleigh, NC) Council for Entrepreneurial Development Fastrak course.  I spoke on Market Analysis and followed an NC State Graduate School Instructor who presented an overview of Market Research.  He ended his 60 minute lecture by introducing me as the person who would explain “what to do with all of the Market Research that everyone in the room was now equipped to gather”.

Feeling the pressure, I stood up in front of the room, scanned the crowd, took a deep breath and started my presentation with… the “F” word.

Fail!  Fail as fast as you can and move on from there.   

(You didn’t seriously think I was going to drop the “F bomb” on my blog did you???)

My point was that no amount of market research and analysis would survive its first contact with the actual market.   The sooner they learned where the problems in their plans were, the sooner they could start dealing with them.  That’s true for software, projects and businesses alike.

I went on to explain how important embracing failure was to our culture at b2b2dot0.  So much so, that our whole product development and service implementation methodologies are centered around failure.  We develop a minimally viable product (MVP) as quickly as possible and “threaten to put it into production” in front of real clients and their customers.  We fully expect not to be able to implement our MVP, nevertheless, we ask them why they can’t use the software as is and their answers are our roadmap to success.

I can’t believe how much push back I got from the class.  They were incredulous that I would not only allow for failure in our business, but embrace it! I spent the remainder of my time in front of them defending my love of failure.

The next day, the universe came to my support and presented me with two timely magazines that  bubbled up to the top of my reading pile:

  1. Harvard Business Review (HBR)(April 2011) – The Failure Issue – How to Understand it, Learn from it, and Recover from it.
  2. Inc Magazine (February 2011) – Inside the Minds of Great Entreprenuers 

Every article in the HBR issue was a great read, but for those of you that don’t have a subscription to the journal, you should at least read the free interview with A.G. Lafley, the ex-CEO of Proctor and Gamble entitled “I think of my Failures as a Gift”.  According to Mr. Lafley;

“Failure is, in my view, all about learning. It’s about learning what you can do better.”

The “How Great Entreprenuers Think” article by Leigh Buchanan was a wonderful summary of must read research conducted by Saras Sarasvathy, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.  I love this “Sam’s philosophy of failure” supporting quote from one of the study participants:

“Ultimately, the best test of any product is to go to your target market and pretend like it’s a real business. You’ll find out soon enough if it is or not. You have to take some risks. You can sit and analyze these different markets forever and ever and ever, and you’d get all these wonderful answers, and they still may be wrong. The problem with the businessman type is they spend a lot of time with all their great wisdom and all their spreadsheets and all their Harvard Business Review people, and they’d either become convinced that there’s no market at all or that they have the market nailed. And they’d go out there big time, with a lot of expensive advertising and upfront costs, because they’re gonna overwhelm the market, and the business would go under.”

Moral of this story?  Perfection is the enemy of the good.  Go ahead and give failure a try.

Sam