The Fear of Failure

Here’s a pub quiz question for you. How quickly can you rattle off the names of five Fortune 500 companies who are proud of their willingness to fail? Your instinctive response: probably, none.

But think about that again. A willingness to fail is a whole lot different to failure. It’s about culture, not outcome; optimism, not pessimism; confidence, not doubt.

A willingness to fail has sat at the heart of the R&D function forever. But it seems counter-intuitive to other disciplines within an organisation. Consider that the conditioning of market expectation.

But business success – particularly business success in the midst of faltering markets – demands a changed mindset. A mindset that accepts the rather dry and chalky taste of business reality.

At the heart of that reality is what we now call an engagement economy. A place where the authenticity of purpose, resilience of thinking and originality of ideas is a prerequisite to business and communication success. A place where consumers tire easily and loyalty wains with equal pace.

At Weber Shandwick we have embraced the engagement economy. It has shifted our outlook to the way we build advocacy for our clients. And it has re-calibrated our own environment, building a culture where our people’s imagination can flourish without being unnerved by the prospect of a failed idea.

Cultivating the collective imagination may sound like a noble purpose, peppered by slick ambiguity. But is far from both.

The best place for any organisation to start such a cultural (and probably philosophical) journey, is to accept the possibility of a failed idea. Because a business that is not prepared to be wrong, must also be prepared to accept the permanent illusiveness of original thought.

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About ianrumsby

Ian Rumsby is Australian Chairman and EVP Asia Pacific at global public relations firm, Weber Shandwick Worldwide. Like every PR flak he is a wannabe journalist. And the advent of blogging presents him with the chance to be exactly that. To some degree. Ian's agency career spans 17 years during which time he has worked for two PR firms. He joined Weber Shandwick Worldwide at its inception in 2001. Having ran the firm's Australian operation for 4 years, a business he continues to chair, he's now immersed in the Asian operation which he hopes will provide a plethora of material for his blog. Ian is English, fiercely proud of it and all the more so as someone who's been living in Sydney since 1998. During that time he has not sent a single Bondi Beach postcard to anyone in Blightly. Instead, he has focused his efforts on getting married, staying married and fathering two delightful young boys. So far, he has been successful on all counts. He's hoping his foray into cyberspace changes none of it.
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One Response to The Fear of Failure

  1. Maha says:

    I feel compelled to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald – “Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”

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