I F’N LOVE FAILURE

Photo of Cliff Courtney
Date: 2018-04-05 14:35:40
By: Cliff Courtney
Date: 2018-04-05 14:35:40

Retail is no place for recklessness. Or making decisions without insight. Or pretending the market is something it’s not. Or thinking only in terms of tomorrow, not the day after. But above all, it’s no place for the fearful. Those who lead by expending all their energy on being risk adverse. Because if you’re afraid to fail, you stand to fail a lot more than you bargained for.

The fact is, failure is merely part of optimization. It starts by letting go. We hold on the tenets of our business for dear life, even as the landscape changes hourly. We tout our brand pillars that support a structure designed and built for a completely different consideration and competition set. And we attach nostalgic meaning to our brand that actually means less and less as people’s habits and lifestyles change at the speed of Alexa.

Yet, as with all things, some brands don’t just persevere at warp speed, they thrive. There’s a reason brands like the NFL, Amazon, and Uber evolve above and beyond their genius or the clarity of their mission. They embrace the virtual amnesia required to fail and change. Ruthlessly. Endlessly. They know in their marrow that the only thing worse than changing and failing, is failing to change.

Amazon started as an e-tailer, and they’re still an e-tailer. But consider their wins and failures in the name of evolution: There’s Prime, which went from 58MM members to 80MM in 18 months, but there’s also the Fire phone, which led to a $170MM write down. When Bezos says, “I’ve made billions of dollars of failures,” he’s not dwelling on mistakes, he’s moved on.

While Major League Baseball holds to their traditions like duct tape, the NFL constantly enacts bold off-season rule changes and the result is all but five teams now worth $2 billion. Five years ago, only one team was even close (how ‘bout them ‘Boys!).

Apple has always stood for technology innovation and design, but despite the Newton, for one, what was once a company defined by RAD programming is today focused on retail planograms. Failure. Reset. Change. Growth.

Uber started as a ride share but delivered a Big Mac to my office today. Tomorrow, Uber’s innovation team may “turn the wheel” a little too hard, lose a little traction and skid into a ditch. But the day after, they’ll be rolling again, just a little smarter, re-accelerating.

If you’re a retailer, despite what you think, your KPI isn’t comp or traffic, conversion or average check. It’s who gives a shit. And to the degree you believe that “you can’t sell a person who isn’t listening,” then you had better be relevant and that means aggressively changing with the market, even if failure is the price of admission.

So, get your head around the fact that the enemies of change are dogma and smelling a few too many roses. You may think you’re a legacy brand, but it’s not just Compaq and RadioShack that went down in flames, it was Rome. Legacy doesn’t equal relevance. You may think that you’ve got a handle on your competition, but that’s the hubris of not realizing that your competition is likely your own satisfaction or stagnation. You may avoid failure like it’s gas station sushi, but you cannot learn from your mistakes if you don’t make any. (Although trust me on the sushi).

Sure, we all drink a lot of Kool-Aid along our journey, which becomes dead weight. Forget everything you think you know. Every phoenix rises from ashes, which is something you gotta love.

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