For Startup Success, Anticipate Failure

February 18, 2015

8:00 am

Failure is a consequence of success. Yes, you read that correctly. As much as you want everything to turn out perfectly on the first try, that mindset isn’t very helpful or realistic. Rather than hope for success, you should learn to anticipate failure.

Every morning, I ask myself what has the best chance of failing that day and how I’ll fix it. This may sound like an affront to optimism, but taking advantage of a similar process can ground you in reality and pre-focus your mind on fortifying your product.

By addressing worst-case scenarios early on, you prepare yourself for anything and everything that could go wrong. And when you challenge your thinking, you can’t help but come up with more robust strategies.

Preparing for failure allows you to:

1. Improve Planning.

Is it better to have a string of successes followed by a catastrophic failure or several small problems leading to a massive success? Predicting potential failure can highlight weaknesses in your planning process. Then, you can strengthen the weak links and create stronger products without nearly as many issues.

During most workdays, there are so many distractions and annoyances to contend with that making a plan — and identifying holes in that plan — can be difficult. You need to figure out what helps you focus your mind on weaknesses in your planning process; otherwise, your busy days will get away from you.

I meditate for 20 to 30 minutes every morning to help me make choices based on principle instead of emotion. Sometimes, a solution won’t present itself until I’m preoccupied doing something else, but getting your mind working on potential issues is the first step.

2. Boost Your Team’s Confidence.

Would it surprise you to learn that IT teams think most of their projects are bound to fail? According to a Geneca study, 75 percent of business and IT teams said their projects are either always or usually doomed from the start.

When you’re anticipating failure, ask your team members to focus their attention on potential weak spots. Talk to customers to understand their needs, and look for ways your product could better fulfill those needs. Instead of phrasing problems as failures, help your team understand that addressing the vulnerability early on will help create a better end product.

When you catch mistakes before they happen, you’ll save your team unnecessary frustration and encounter more success.

3. Catch Problems Before They Get to Your Customers.

Who would you rather find a problem with your product: you or your customers? Failure is inevitable from time to time, but when you anticipate it and prepare for it in advance, you can often uncover issues before your product reaches your customers.

We once deployed our software to a major client without testing it thoroughly enough. The release caused massive instability and led to a rift with our client. If we hadn’t focused our entire team on fixing the issue and made rapid improvements over the next month, we might have lost the client entirely.

I should have anticipated stability and scalability problems from the beginning. Nowadays, our implementations are much more robust because we root out failure during the planning process.

I had to learn about failure the hard way, but you don’t have to. Failure is the price of doing business, but it’s ultimately a positive thing because it helps you learn. Instead of thinking of failure as a personal problem, consider it a necessary teacher. The earlier you encounter it, the more successful your product will be.

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Marius Moscovici is the founder and CEO of Metric Insights. He founded the company in 2010 to transform the way business intelligence is performed so organizations of any size can quickly and easily deploy powerful analytics. Marius has over 20 years of experience in analytics and data warehousing and was previously the co-founder and CEO of Integral Results, a leading business intelligence consulting company that was acquired by Idea Integration.

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