Failure is the price of success

March 1, 2018

We embrace failure.
We are used to it.
We are good at it.

We fail daily.

Design led innovation, business development and service design works well only, if you are not afraid to fail. Where failure is considered a result of incompetence, rather than curiosity, failure will be the end result instead. However, the process to failure will be a success all the way. Sort like a bureaucracy where every step along the way is done right just to achieve the wrong result.

Winston Churchill pointed out, that “success means going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

Design led development does this as a science, almost. Design led development is the realisation, that testing and iterating quickly, without presuming that the end result has to be something in particular, is a more efficient and exact means of creating greater customer value, than internal brainstorms along familiar routes of presumption.

We often get asked, if we can help to improve a product or service. The answer, obviously, is yes. Unfortunately, the answer to the follow-up question, “how would you do it” is usually “I don’t know.” The reason for that second answer is, that first we need to understand the customer, the context, the stakeholders, how the company works, how staff are and a myriad of other factors to determine where along the customer journey from need to satisfaction, the opportunities for innovation actually lie. In that sense, “I don’t know” is not a truthful answer, because we do know the process for getting there. But often that is not what anyone is interested in. The process is our problem, the result is what they want.

However, the process is what matters. The process helps illustrate the customer’s challenges and opportunities and how these relate to the company’s services and products. Without this understanding, the greatest danger is working in isolation of the whole and just improving what presumably should be important. This approach, the refusal to change any other part of the business which isn’t directly impacted or involved, usually means that the result will briefly boost the appeal of the brand, before quickly being forgotten.

A lot of business magazines and books have extolled the virtues of failure. But the fact is that most businesses, especially larger complex businesses, are too scared of failure on any level, to adopt a design led approach for innovation and business development. At the same time, all research clearly proves, that design-led innovation is more effective and generates more business and customer value over the long-term, that traditional internal development does.

To embrace failure is simply the act of admitting, that we don’t know everything and that before we start “fixing” things, we should first find out what actually is broken and why. That, in a nutshell, is design led innovation.