Every unusually successful person has failed many times; in all likelihood, a lot more often than most people. That's why those people are so successful. Every unusually successful business has failed many times; again, and in all likelihood, a lot more often than most businesses. That's why those businesses are so successful.
Why? No one enjoys failing, but failure is also the best way to learn and grow. We all make mistakes. We all take wrong paths. The people -- and businesses -- that win are the ones that own their failures, learn from their failures and do whatever it takes to make sure that next time, things turn out differently.
That's a competitive advantage your startup should embrace. You probably don't have any stockholders. You probably don't have any investors. That means failures are, although no less painful, a lot more acceptable.
And that means you get to find out what really works, and what really does not.
Still, for a CEO, there's a fine line between encouraging failure yet always trying - okay, needing -- to succeed. If that's a balance you struggle to maintain, start with one of the simplest and most effective ways to embrace the possibility of failure: A/B testing.
Testing for Success
If you aren't familiar, A/B testing (also known as split testing) compares the results from two different things designed to produce the same outcome. A common use of A/B testing is on website landing pages. Both versions are designed to, say, convince a potential customer to make a purchase. The one that gets the fewest results fails; the other wins.
While it might seem to make better sense to decide which version is "best" ahead of time and not waste website visitors on an inferior landing page, how would you truly know?
You don't. But your customers will tell you.
And you can test the winning page against another page. You could repeat that kind of A/B testing as much as you like by testing different calls to action, different layouts, different images, different colors -- the possibilities are endless. In each case you'll fail -- but you'll also learn more than you previously knew.
And those failures will continue to improve the effectiveness of your landing page.
But that's a simple example. What if you don't need to improve a landing page?
Making It Okay to Fail
The same principle applies. Take sales. You can test the effectiveness of two different sales scripts. Or two different special offers. Or two different marketing approaches. Instead of trying a number of different things at on time to see which "works," run a series of A/B tests to determine what truly works.
The beauty of the A/B testing approach is that baked into the process is the premise that one effort will fail. That automatically makes failure okay -- which makes experimentation much easier for employees to embrace (unlike when, say, an employee suggests a new social media marketing idea and you give her the go-ahead and it fails miserably). A/B testing automatically puts the focus on the positive, not the negative. The goal is to find out whether a new idea works, not worry that a new idea won't work.
And then, once you create a culture where experiments are seen as essential, and where failure is a natural part of the process of innovation, your employees will feel more comfortable taking intelligent risks -- especially if you focus on what the employee, and your business, can learn from that failure and not just on the person responsible for that failure.
That's the kind of culture every startup needs to build. No company can grow without pushing past its comfort zone. No employee can grow without pushing past his or her comfort zone.
You can't innovate unless you're willing to, at least some of the time, fail.
Start with A/B testing in a variety of settings. That will create a foundation, and a sense of trust for the innovation and experimentation -- for trying, learning, and moving forward -- that your business truly needs.