Failure Is Always An Option

Failure is always an option, a phrase popularized by Adam Savage from MythBusters, is a powerful ideology all of us should embrace. It runs counter to the old saying by buttoned-down military commanders, managers, football coaches and other commonly associated power figures that  failure is not an option.

That phrase was (and still is) used by managers of all levels and types in a misguided attempt at motivation. However it’s unlikely to motivate smart folk and wouldn’t be used if they understood the true motivations behind creative individuals. The old notion of failure not being an option is irrelevant to digital professionals.

Failure is a beautiful thing, and if you organize your business around it you can gain a serious advantage over competitors who think they’re infallible and spend inordinate amounts of time trying to be perfect versus trying lots of things, failing like crazy, and seeing what sticks. The truth is we all fail, every one of us, and when you really stop and remove the societal stigmas associated with it, you realize it’s not actually a negative.

If you’re organized properly to take advantage of the web there is no such thing as failure. Actually, the only real cost of failure in modern business is wasting time worrying about it. This is because you should be getting data from everything you’re doing, and like a meteorologist using that feedback to constantly improve your methods. Data is now everyone’s domain and if you don’t understand how to use it yet, it’s time to learn.

Social media turns marketing into an ongoing experiment and gives an edge to those fluent in sociology and cultural studies (rather than “business best practices”). And in experiments, you’re constantly forming and testing a hypothesis. Proving that hypothesis wrong is still a positive, as you’re getting data, can refine your approach and try again.  If you vest too much in each test, you’re not being agile enough.

Communications have evolved, and digital channels reward fresh content. Developing content is no longer a choice, it’s core to digital marketing. With each piece of content you develop, you’re making a prediction whether it will be successful or fail. And you shouldn’t be banking so much on big launches anymore, just the opposite, you should never launch, just iterate. A large mix of failures and successes is a common trait for companies winning the web.

Your digital marketing at the macro level should be designed to succeed and provide increasing returns, of course. I’m not saying success isn’t awesome and that you shouldn’t strive for it. But ironically enough, the more you fail, the more you’ll succeed.   Failure should always be an option on the table that won’t make or break what you’re doing overall. Expect failure, embrace it, have contingencies for it, don’t freak out about it, and realize if you’re structured properly, it’s a positive.

If you’re still not sold on failure being a good thing, watch this talk by Adam from MythBusters, really puts the concept in perspective: