Rewarding Failure? Actually, We're Fostering Success

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Alina highlighted something the other day that caught the attention of a few people — that part of our culture is to encourage our teammates to get crazy and throw out some pretty wild ideas, even if it means failure. She rightfully called it opportunity and outlined three good reasons why we do it:

  1. To get bad ideas out of our system
  2. To make sure no creative stone is unturned
  3. And, occasionally, to gauge the customer's wild side

But there's also another reason we do it — to learn and to do so quickly so that we can move on. We call it 'fail fast.' When you enable people to take risk, try things and fail, they learn faster and their productivity skyrockets. Think of it as autonomy to fail by not putting up a barrier that inhibits employees. In a way, it pushes them to master their craft.

Truth be told, everyone of us has failed at some point. Recently, I took a chance and pushed the envelope on some copy for our website, taking a more hard news slant. After having a spirited debate over the content with a fellow ZURBIan, I realized that I hadn't just pushed the envelope — I'd blown it apart. But I learned how to better balance my journalistic instincts with the needs of the business. I learned to find the happy medium. That's not to say I won't take another risk again. But I learned from this one.

Productive Failure

Don't get us wrong, it's not that we're seeking failure. It's what Eric Ries calls productive failure, where you learn something really important from it. Take Josh Levy and Ross Cohen, BeenVerified's co-founders. They burned through $550,000 in 11 months because they failed to figure out who would actually use their product.

Sure that's a hard lesson to learn and they could've prevented it by doing some user testing and getting feedback as early as possible. But hindsight is 20/20. The important thing is that Levy and Ross learned to not waste time developing a product without a customer. Now that's a productive failure and the duo were able to eventually turn BeenVerified into a success (it made $11 million last year).

Rewarding Failure or Fostering Success

To go back for a second to Eric. He was recently asked at the Wired Business Conference if startups were being rewarded too much for failure. His answer:

We're rewarding failure not enough.

Eric's got a point, but we'd add that it's not that we're only rewarding failure. We're actually fostering success. Failure is the means by which we get there and get there at breakneck speeds.

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