Tag Archives: Success

Art Fry shares views on Failure…

In  my previous post When are you planning to fail ?, I argued that early failures were a far more effective learning tool than early successes. Those ‘gentle failures’ could help you avoid, or at least minimize the chances of ‘grand failures’.

My colleague from PMI NPDSIG, Kimberly Johnson, shared that post with some of her ex-colleagues (Thanks Kim !), including Art Fry, inventor of perhaps most-well-known office product, Post-It Notes.  Here is what he wrote back:

“Good article, Kim. In most product development programs you must consider dealing with failure, because only one in 3000 to 5000 raw ideas become a success. So the question is, How do you check out the failures as quickly and inexpensively as possible?

One technique we have used with brainstorming sessions is to first brainstorm for the good ideas. This can be an individual or group effort. After a day of incubation, come back and brainstorm the barriers to success for those ideas. On day 3, Brainstorm the ways around those barriers. Sometimes a program that didn’t look so good at the start, turns out to have the most promising path. It is amazing how much time it can save in a program with a lot less cost than charging ahead with unchecked enthusiasm. Action without thinking is the cause of most failure.



He sent one more viewpoint:

“One more thought. Why would people want to work on new things, if most of their work is going to lead to failure? The good news is that when one of the individual’s ideas does find a successful path, it requires the help of a lot of people who have the satisfaction of building something successful. It is like hitting a good drive on the 18th hole. It keeps you coming back.



It is indeed great to have Art’s views on this highly underrecognized subject (in my view, at least). Art raises a very pertinent question: when the success rates are as low as just about 1 in 3,000 to 5,000, what is it that keep people going on and on and on ? Surely, large organizations could fund ideas in various stage of a concept-to-realization pipeline (that is, starting from thousands of raw ideas to finally the ones that will get productionized and are expected to be released on a commercial basis) even though they also need to count their R&D dollars (very carefully, I must add !), more so in these tough economic times. In the startup world, there is Darwin again at work – it is perhaps the democracy at its best that the strongest ideas stand up to various survival tests and eventually make it big. However, what is it that keeps people pushing at their ideas, day after day, week after week and year after year – just based on the strength of conviction about their ideas ? Are those ideas winners by themselves (i.e., genetically endowed), or is it the tireless efforts of those individuals that bakes those ideas to be a winner (i.e., genetically engineered) ?

Another colleague of Kim, Wayne wrote back:

“This conversation reminded me of the question Russ Ackoff posed to me when he came to town to speak for a day about 10 years ago . . .
Russ asked “Is it true what I hear about 3M that you give an annual award for the Biggest Failure to reinforce it is OK to fail?”  
Russ will always be a hero of mine for his insight into systems . . . see his wikipedia summary at this link –>

Wow…wouldn’t that be splendid to be awarded the “Most Promising Failure of the Year” or some such ‘recognition’. I think it is a valuable (and rare perhaps ?) skill to be able to ‘smell’ failures from miles away. Imagine the power of an action that helps a company move out of random choas and uncertain future into a clear direction. I think Performance Management Systems are overdue for a big overhaul, for they glorify and celebrate achievement-orientation and happy endings. I would really love to hear back about an appraisal system that actually places premium on intelligent failures as opposed to run-of-the-mill non-consequential routine ‘successes’.

Failure is the new Success. Do you care ?

Are you helping your competitors succeed ?

I just read a nice story on the home page of Luke Watson, and was struck by its ‘simple power’. It goes like this:

A few years ago, there was story going around about a farmer who won a particular category in the Nebraska State Fair four years in a row, which is unheard of there. The local newspaper sent a reporter to interview the farmer to find out what he did to achieve such a feat.

The reporter asked, “What’s your secret? Do you have any special corn seed?”
The farmer replied, “Absolutely, I develop my very own corn seed.”
The reporter said, “Okay, so that’s your secret – you developed your very own corn seed.”
And the farmer said, “No, not particularly.”
The reporter exclaimed, “I don’t understand. What’s your secret, then?”
The farmer said, “Well, I’ll tell you. I develop my own seed, and then I give it to my neighbors.”
The reporter said, “Huh? You develop your own seed and then give it to your neighbors? Why would you do that?” The reporter was incredulous – why would anyone in his right mind develop his own award-winning seed and then just give it away??
The farmer said, “You don’t understand how corn is pollinated. It’s pollinated from neighboring fields, and if you have fields around you that don’t have top-quality corn, then your own fields are not going to grow top-quality corn. But if my neighbors’ fields have strong corn, then I’ll have awesome corn! That’s how I won the Nebraska State Fair four times in a row.”

(Adapted from “Success From Home” magazine, Vol.4, Issue 10, Oct 2008, p109, Plus Publishing)

Is this open-source competition, open-source innovation, open-source collaboration or what ???

Hats off to the farmer in the story who exhibited such an unconventional and long-haul thinking. How many of us would be willing to apply such a bold thought in our business ? I find this a brand new approach to innovation – one that is really deep-rooted in helping others succeed because that is the only way to bring one’s own success. Even though our farmer is still winning hands-down in the competition, his neighbors are clearly happy using his high-quality corn (otherwise they would not use those corns) and despite the fact our farmer always wins, they don’t seem to mind his success – because his style of innovation is helping them all improve their own respective yield. Without their support, he can’t succeed, and he won’t get their support it they themselves are not succeeding. So, first he must help them succeed so that they, in turn, could bring him bigger success ! wow !

I am trying to think of companies that flourish using such a model of innovation…could not think of one, but there must be some. Write back if you know of some such company.

…but, are you helping your competitors succeed ? maybe, that’s the key to your own success !