Is Failure Really Not an Option?


The Ten Rules of Highly Unsuccessful PeopleHow many times have we heard someone say, “Failure is not an option in this case?” It amuses me, at first. Every time I hear that my first thought is to wonder if it were an option in the other instances. Then I quickly assess the situation.

Saying that failure is not an option is naive and demonstrative of a short-sighted leader. Failure is ALWAYS an option; it is always a possibility, which is why strategic planning requires that you address all the things that can go wrong, to account for contingencies.

Failure, at some point, is all but inevitable. Humans make errors, that’s what makes us interesting, and that’s what makes us better. There is no real perfection since perfection is relative. Even in a coding world, where there are only 2 numbers, people make mistakes all the time. How many “service packs” or “bug fixes” have you installed? So if people only using 1’s and 0’s make mistakes and their code fails, why is it so catastrophic for those of us who use ALL the digits.

Failure in marketing is all but inevitable. We plan, we develop tactics, and then we optimize based on outcomes. Is that not saying we are fixing what did not work?

The whole idea of failure is really a miscommunication or management of expectations. The only true failures are the inability to adapt to different and changing outcomes, and the inability to learn from them.

Failure is an opportunity to learn, and to learn in a way we could not have been taught otherwise. Of course we don’t plan to fail, but we have to plan for the possibility of it, and then not freak out if and when failure occurs. Reacting positively to an initiative, to improve it, or pause a campaign that isn’t performing, is called optimizing, and it’s what we do.

The next time you’re sitting in a meeting and the leader tells you that failure is not an option, think about software companies sending out new releases with bug fixes, or public corporations refiling their reports, or all the comments people make about inconsistencies in movies, or the typos that are likely on your meeting agenda.

I leave you with this current popular image going around social media. It’s worth a read.

Famous Failures -- Even the Greats Fell Down at Some Point

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