Forensics of failure


November 2014, article published in El Periódico de Catalunya

Forensics of failure

“It was June 2006. 8:30 in the morning. I got a call from my boss, the CEO of the company. He was telling me that our agents had decided to carry out a boycott and stop selling our products. The situation was very serious. We were losing millions every minute. I could hear it. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Time was against us. In just a week, we had gone from being a profitable company to being in the red. We had to solve the problem, but without a doubt, we had failed in our way of selling. Our innovation when we approached the market had provoked the opposite of our expected result.”

All of us have failed. All of us. The words I quote in the previous paragraph were spoken recently by an executive whose career had played out on the highway of professional success. And it was the same one who told me that he had failed in his innovation proposal. This made me think that innovating is, above all, knowing that you will fail, with the understanding that accepting this in a company is complicated.

Failure doesn’t rhyme with promotion, or salary (preceded by “increase in”), or with recognition, or with anything positive. Does anyone know of any official failure who has received prizes? Imagine it: I appreciate the award for “Failure of the year” with thanks to my boss who has always abandoned me in the face of adversity.

It is clear that we live in a society of success. Praised, extolled, and revered, success is the holy grail of management. However, assuming that we will fail (and yes, I have a wretched mind that makes me think so) the realistic question that we should begin any project with is: What will I do when it fails?

Because sooner or later, any initiative that implies creating something new and useful for the company will pass through stages of failure, partial or complete. It’s about managing the waves of failure that will try to hurl you against the rocks, provoking the uneasiness of the initiative.

So the best thing to do is study the forensics of failure. That is, to become professionals capable of dissecting a failure, studying the anatomy of a botched job, understanding the keys that, if they are repeated, will certainly lead us to the pit…if we don’t have them crystal clear.

All of us tend to remember our “success cases,” what we have achieved through good management, analyzing to exhaustion the variables that have made us succeed. Yet, however, we try to bury the failures. Why don’t we create a folder of failures? A powerful place, more useful than painful, that serves us to classify the studies of those failures that we have had and dissect them with absolute precision. This is especially useful for those who want to innovate.

Having forensic abilities with failure in the company is not trivial and undoubtedly deals with a job of the future. By understanding why you fail, accepting that humans are programmed to commit errors, we can avoid a new failure.

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