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Use ‘Fail Bricks’ to Build Walls of Success

It’s something I hear way too often: “We prefer to call failure a learning experience.”

I believe that to truly achieve innovative breakthroughs, failure needs to be called what it is. And failing for a purpose is more noble than learning. In small business tech, we go for it and never look back.

In doing so, we use failures like bricks in a wall to not only build success, but to strengthen our projects, our products and even our company. 

Creating space for innovation

Innovation and improvement opportunities are in every area of the business beyond research and development. That includes HR and operations. Don’t be afraid to try (or even pilot) new ideas, concepts or processes and to let your staff  know why you are changing things up. At Tome, we have lab day once a month, which is our safe space where everyone shuts down normal work and goes out to learn or try new things. We encourage team members to push personal technical limits, without fear of the consequences of failure. In our client projects, we often have a discovery phase where we test new technologies. Failure is not only tolerated, it’s expected. We use it to decommission certain techs while others are prioritized.

Define Success and Failure Early 

The worst thing in tech are products, technologies or businesses that hang around without ever succeeding or failing. I call these zombies. These need to be avoided at all costs by defining success and failure early, typically before even starting a project. Find a performance metric that is without question a failure, one that everyone agrees with. It may not be what you want, but at least you have a clear line. Success can also be tricky as you not only need to make money and meet a technical performance goal, but you also need to be in front of your competitors.

Sharing Failure 

Sharing and celebrating failure is the only way to show your team you truly expect and embrace failure. Ben & Jerry’s has a flavor graveyard for flavors that have failed or “passed away.” We have a fail brick with our logo that is earned. Whenever anyone fails, we post a message on Slack and show off  the brick on our desks as a badge of honor.

It’s common culture to ask, “How’d you get the fail brick?” We also have a “fail of the month” award to present at the monthly staff meeting, which is almost as popular as our employee of the month award. Find your own way to allow, define and share your failures to accelerate your next big idea. 

Jake Sigal