Why do we want to create a culture that accepts failure? It’s definitely a counterintuitive concept but failing is a fundamental (and due to human error, unavoidable) part of business.

The fear of failure inhibits innovation, it is a problem we see time and time again. Employees are too scared to put their name on projects/strategies and are too scared to take risks in case things go south and they receive the “blame” of a failed project. From this point, the ramifications snowball including limiting the company’s ability to scale and capping potential returns.

There was a study published in Scientific American that showed that after a learning scenario the brain retains new neural pathways by taking in new information, compiling the key takeaways from trial and error. The key learning from the study was that mistakes mature the brain resulting in more efficient synapses and fundamentally altered neurons i.e. failing makes you smarter – we should be failing.


What’s the right way to be wrong?

  1. Lead by example
    Creating a culture that supports failure requires a top-down shift in mentality. Upper management need to encourage new systems and shift employee’s KPIs accordingly to reflect a new test and learn model.
  2. Communicate
    We need to encourage transparency in the workplace so that team members feel comfortable talking about their failures including identifying the key reasons why they failed. Creating a culture that accepts failure comes down to dialogue. Perhaps we need to create a new definition of failure in order to be able to accept failures, learn from them and keep moving forward. Should businesses re-define the concept of failure and say that the greatest failure is a failure not to try? After all, without failure we wouldn’t have things like potato chips, post-it-notes or penicillin. Each inventor set out to invent something completely different and the end result was technically ‘a failure.’
  3. Fail Fast
    One of Silicon Valley’s most striking mantra’s “fail fast fail often.” The philosophy values extensive testing and development to determine if an idea has value. We need to implement processes that quickly identify failures, then encourage employees to learn and go forth stronger than before!


Who is embracing failing?

  1. Coca-Cola
    James Quincey the CEO encourages his team to fail, stating “if we’re not making mistakes, we’re not trying hard enough|
  2. Netflix
    Reed Hastings the CEO of Netflix is adamant about taking more risks in the company’s future. He previously declared that he was worried that Netflix had too many hit shows and was cancelling too few new shots. “Our hit ratio is too high right now, we have to take more risk… to try more crazy things.. we should have a higher cancel rate overall.”
  3. Amazon
    Jeoff Bezos, CEO of Amazon declares that the companies growth and innovation is built on its failures “If you’re going to take bold bets, they’re going to be experiments,” he explained shortly after Amazon bought Whole Foods. “And if they’re experiments, you don’t know ahead of time if they’re going to work. Experiments are by their very nature prone to failure. But a few big successes compensate for dozens and dozens of things that didn’t work.” “Failures and inventions are inseparable twins.”A prime example of the company’s failure was the Amazon Fire Phone. The Amazon Fire Phone was a 3D- enabled smart phone, initially believed it could compete with the Apple Iphone, it was Amazon’s first foray into the smartphone market. However, it wasn’t well received by the market and ended up being a $170million write off for the company. Jeoff Bezos commented on the “failure” stating “nine times out of ten, you’re going to fail. But every once in while, you’ll hit a home run that in business terms is more like 1,000 runs. Given a ten percent chance of a 100 times payoff, you should take that bet every time.”



Failure is not the opposite of success, it’s a part of it. Let’s embrace failure to create working environments that foster innovation and growth.