Man, I’ve heard that phrase a lot in my life. And truth be told, I’ve spoken it more than I care to admit.
But when something fails once in the past (or even more than once) should it be doomed forever?
“Almost nothing that happens in the future is new; it’s almost always something that has been tried and failed in the past.”
It’s so true. Think about Apple’s recent successes. MP3 players floundered before the iPod came along. Smartphones existed in limited fashion before the iPhone changed the landscape. And tablet computers had been an unrealized dream for quite some time. In discussing the tablet computer in 2001, Bill Gates famously said that “within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America.” When that didn’t happen, it wasn’t hard to find people predicting the tablet’s failure: “The Tablet? It isn’t RIP. But it’s certainly never going to be the noise Bill Gates thought.” But then along came the iPad and its million units sold in the first month alone. And don’t get me started on e-books, which many loudly proclaimed were bound to fail. Jeff Bezos begs to differ.
We humans have this tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater when something fails.
But the reality is that the success of any new idea — be it a product, a promotional idea, a merchandising technique, a sales tactic or website functionality — is dependent on many different variables. Execution matters a lot. But we’re also dependent on many other situational contexts in the idea’s ecosystem, like timing, audience/customers, design, the economy, and the general randomness of life. Even slight tweaks to any of those variables can be the difference between success and failure.
In the others words, we shouldn’t automatically assume a past failure of an idea means the idea was bad. To be clear, I’m not suggesting there aren’t bad ideas that deserve to remain in the trash heap. However, we should at least break down the failure of an idea that we must have considered worthy at one point. (Why else would we have tried it in the first place?) What went wrong and what went right? Was it the execution? The positioning? The audience? Did we even have enough data points in our measurement that our findings of failure are statistically significant? Did it really fail?
Once we’ve broken the failure of the idea down into its component parts, we’ll have a better sense of whether or not the idea itself was at fault. We’ll have a much better understanding of the problems we would face if we tried it again, and that better understanding will give us a better platform from which to base our next attempt if we so desire. We’ve all heard the stories of Thomas Edison’s thousands of failures before he finally got the incandescent light bulb right. Would we all be in the dark today if he gave up?
What do you think? Have you good ideas junked because of past failures? Was it the idea or something else?