New Coke. The Segway. Apple’s Lisa computer. If you've ever felt bad about your small-business’s flops, those big-business flops should cheer you up.
But were these missteps really failures? The Lisa led to many features that are incorporated into today’s Macs. The Segway, while it didn’t revolutionize transportation, as it was hyped to do, has found its niche in warehouses and police departments. And the failure of New Coke certainly didn’t derail Coca-Cola, which has since introduced a range of new flavors.
When an innovation fails, what do you do? Do you try to sweep it under the rug and never speak of it again? Or do you try to learn from the experience so you can do better next time? Here are six ways you can cull success from the seeds of failure.
1. Track your failures. Some failures are obvious to everyone. The new product that was a spectacular bomb; the new system you implemented that created chaos. Other ideas die not with a bang, but with a whimper. The new product you introduced was just kind of “meh”; the new system you implemented wasn’t that much better than the old one, so your staff quietly stopped using it and went back to the old way. Don’t bury failures under the rug. Make a point to assess your innovations every quarter or six months and determine whether they measured up.
2. Assess what went wrong. Did a new product die because there was no demand? Was it marketed ineffectively? Priced too high or too low? Did a competitor beat you to market or copy you soon after launch? There are many reasons for failure. Sit down and assess which factors contributed to the fizzle.
3. Be honest without blame. This is the hardest part. It’s human nature to get defensive when failings are pointed out. You and your team need to be able to talk about which parts of the process led to failure, without pointing fingers. At the same time, everyone needs to be open and honest about what happened. Did your marketing team have a great campaign for the new product planned, but couldn’t carry it out properly due to lack of time? Let them tell you that --without you blowing your lid.
4. Make adjustments. Figure out how to eliminate the problems that stymied the innovation last time. For example, if your team was too swamped to market it properly, maybe you can outsource, hire, or relieve them of some duties so they can focus on the new product next time.
5. Put the round peg in the square hole. If the obvious fixes don’t work, it’s time to get creative. Would this product work for a completely different customer (men instead of women, BtoB instead of BtoC)? Maybe it’s not a good product, but could lead to an idea for a new service. If you’ve been trying to sell it for rock bottom prices, what would happen if you made it a luxury item instead? Failed innovations can spark new ideas if you think about them in an innovative fashion.
6. Know when to let go. Many small-business owners throw good money after bad by trying to resuscitate a failure long after everyone else knows it’s dead. If you’ve tried all the changes you can think of and the innovation still isn’t working, it’s time to cut your losses and move on.
How do you and your team learn from innovations that don’t pan out?
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