Failure Can Be Harder Than You Think

The “world’s greatest salesman” knew how to fail, do you?

Thomas John Watson, Sr. was the chairman and CEO of IBM who oversaw that company’s growth into an international force from 1914 to 1956, the year he died. Watson developed IBM’s distinctive management style and corporate culture, and turned the company into a highly-effective selling organization, based largely around punched card tabulating machines. A leading self-made industrialist, he was one of the richest men of his time and was called the world’s greatest salesman.

Thomas is attributed with saying “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate”. Wired Magazine editor Kevin Kelly likewise explains that a great deal can be learned from things going unexpectedly, and that success comes from keeping blunders “small, manageable, constant, and trackable”. Paul Saffo, a celebrated futurologist, also recognises the benefits of failure and once said: “The absolute secret to Silicon Valley’s success is failure. This place reinvents itself because they know how to fail in the right way.”

So, there is a lot of evidence to support the idea that knowing how to fail is important for business success.  The only problem is that it is often hard to keep blunders small and survivable.  You may be taking on much more risk than you realise.

Like Kevin Kelly, I advocate taking small steps, but it can be harder to recognise one than it might seem.

To make sure you fail small don’t jump into the unknown.  If you haven’t done something before get help, from someone who has.

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