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How Coca-Cola, Netflix, and Amazon learn from failure

by BILL TAYLOR, HBR

November 17, 2017 | 2:09 pm
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Why are so many successful business leaders urging their companies and colleagues to make more mistakes and embrace more failures?

In May, right after he became CEO of Coca-Cola Co., James Quincey called upon rank-and-file managers to get beyond the fear of failure that had dogged the company since the “New Coke” fiasco of so many years ago. In June, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings worried that his fabulously valuable streaming service had too many hit shows. Even Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, arguably the most successful entrepreneur in the world, makes the case as directly as he can that his company’s growth and innovation is built on its failures.

If you’re not prepared to fail, you’re not prepared to learn. And unless people and organizations manage to keep learning as fast as the world is changing, they’ll never keep growing and evolving.

So what’s the right way to be wrong? Are there techniques that allow organizations and individuals to embrace the necessary connection between small failures and big successes?

Patrick Doyle, CEO of Domino’s Pizza since 2010, has had one of the most successful seven-year runs of any business leader in any field. But all of his company’s triumphs, he insists, are based on its willingness to face up to the likelihood of mistakes and missteps. In a presentation to other CEOs, Doyle described two great challenges that stand in the way of companies and individuals being more honest about failure. The first challenge, he says, is what he calls “omission bias” — the reality that most people with a new idea choose not to pursue the idea because if they try something and it doesn’t work, the setback might damage their career.

The second challenge is to overcome what he calls “loss aversion” — the tendency for people to play not to lose rather than play to win, because for most of us, “The pain of loss is double the pleasure of winning.”

Creating “the permission to fail is energizing,” Doyle explains, and a necessary condition for success, which is why he titled his presentation, with apologies to the movie Apollo 13, “Failure Is  an Option.”

(Bill Taylor is the co-founder of Fast Company.)

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by BILL TAYLOR, HBR

November 17, 2017 | 2:09 pm
  |     |     |   Start Conversation

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