Why business leaders should demand (some) failure



Expert

By Michael Evans

Success does not come without failure. The two exist in symbiosis, and rather than perpetually fearing the latter, it should be embraced as a necessary part of the journey. That’s what we’ve learnt from some of the most innovative companies today. 

From early on, we’re programmed to shun failure and view it as a negative experience, yet if we turn our backs on it, we’ll never recognise the flaws that need to be addressed. The same principle applies to aspiring business leaders who avoid confronting the disappointment of failing and consequently the valuable lessons that come with it. Hence, it is necessary to not only embrace failure but also welcome it. Failing early and failing often isn’t damaging as long as it costs little and allows for correction, ultimately improving upon the original concept. This process underpins business success and is what we call ‘design thinking’. 

Opening the door to design thinking

Design thinking is the process of identifying challenges and obstacles and exploring alternative solutions to a problem before the end-product is delivered to the customer. It looks at ideas through a series of lenses: business objectives, technology targets, and customer needs. 

Understanding business objectives at the start of a project helps the team map out the journey ahead and prioritise items effectively. However it’s important these are flexible. Remaining objectives-focused is important as it ensures the business does not lose sight of the end-goal, but these goals often change. As each step is measured against the final outcome, objectives are refined through user feedback—what started off as a lead-generation project could shift to be about increasing revenue. Setting strict, uncompromising expectations on a project is likely to lead to a business’ downfall as it places success far beyond reach.

The second pillar, technology targets, refers to the environment in which a solution is implemented. Think about the technology stack that it needs to fit into – will it seamlessly integrate to use existing data and components, or is it creating a separate function that will increase maintenance workload? What seems like a quick-fix has the potential to result in excessive overhead investments that hinder success in the long run. That is why understanding the long-term impact will put the definition of failure into perspective. 

Finally, customer needs should always be a key focus. Providing a positive customer experience provides a plethora of benefits that are invaluable to a business: long-term user loyalty, increased productivity, reduced overhead costs—the list goes on. According to McKinsey, organisations that prioritise customer experience in their design and development achieve increased revenues by 32 percent over a five-year period (a much faster rate than those that don’t). Furthermore, 40 percent of companies aren’t talking to their customers during development, indicating a clear opportunity for businesses to gain a competitive advantage.

This is arguably the most important “lens” to consider, because if a project or investment provides no value to a customer (or causes frustration for the customer), the business is likely to be better off without it.

Failure: friend not foe

What emerges from these steps is a formula that mitigates risks and delivers a polished offering to the customer. The dynamic nature of this process is what makes it so adaptable to a variety of situations and objectives. The vision a business begins its journey with may not reflect the outcome but instead inspire even better solutions that cannot be achieved without failure.


Michael Evans, Vice President at ANZ

Michael Evans, Vice President ANZ

Michael Evans is Vice President ANZ at Pegasystems, boasting over 20 years of experience in the enterprise technology sector. As part of his role, Michael pays close attention to people and culture as a means to drive success across the market, ensuring organisations across Australia and New Zealand are achieving their digital transformation objectives.

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