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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tom Peters thought for the day

"At every Exec Group meeting, set aside a 15-minute block to discuss a "dumbest thing we've done lately" item—insist that members bring a case along for discussion." See the original post here.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Putting Failure in its Place - HBR Post

Whitney Johnson has published a short and engaging piece on managing failure on the HBR blog. Put Failure in its Place - by Whitney Johnson

Friday, October 12, 2012

Shades of Failure

"And what color is the sky?" I ask my three-year old* in that cutesy voice parents reserve for their children. "BLUE!!" comes the unequivocal reply.

We've all been conditioned to see the world in unequivocal terms. The sky is blue, trees are green, roses are red… I was not surprised to find that a majority of people associate failure with the color - think about it for a moment - yes, black. Success is most often associated with the color white. We wear black to attend funerals. Brides wear white dresses to their wedding. But are things really that simple? No. Consider that in many cultures the dead are dressed in white. And grooms often wear a black tuxedo to their wedding. Bridal gowns are not always white. And not everyone dons a black suit to a funeral.

Black and white are extremes. Just like the sky isn't blue, there is an infinite spectrum of shades and colors between black and white.

So what color do you most associate with failure now? Is there really such a thing as complete and utter failure, a failure so grave that we could only color it in solid black?

Tell me, I'd love to hear from you.

*My daughter is now 16...this was written back in 1999 while I was still at Stanford.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

More on VC Failure - The Kauffman Foundation Report

A reader recently shared the Kauffman Foundation report, and it's quite an incredible piece of testimony against the VC industry...

The Kauffman Foundation is a $2 billion foundation and one of the 30 largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Kauffman focuses on two goals: advancing entrepreneurship and improving the education of children and youth.

Over the past 20 years the foundation had invested in approximately 100 different VC funds, and therefore has a unique set of statistics on the performance of the VC industry. The results of Kauffman's analysis are staggering in their implications:
  • Since 1997, investors poured more cash into VCs than VCs had distributed to investors (!)
  • Only 20% of venture funds managed to beat the market by more than 3% annually
  • 62% of funds failed to exceed average market returns (!!)
  • The average VC fund FAILS to return investor capital (!!!)

    There is a lot more of interest in this report to anyone that has anything at all to do with start-ups, entrepreneurship, innovation and investment.

    To access the full report, click here.

    To view a video explaining the foundation's findings, click here and then click on the video link.

    As could be expected this report received widespread coverage, here are some of the more prominent analyses and discussions:
  • Geekwire
  • cnet
  • CNN
  • Monday, October 8, 2012

    Can Apple keep churning without Jobs? Will Apple fail?

    From the Guardian:

    The post-Jobs Apple has a different flavour under Tim Cook
    A year after Steve Jobs's death, the replacement for the seemingly irreplaceable co-founder has made the company more ethical – and yet more profitable

    A Compendium of Quotes on Failure

    Dec 9, 2012

    "He that is overcautious will accomplish little."
    Friedrich von Schiller, Poet, Philosopher, Historian and Playwright

    As quoted in The Ten Commandments for Business Failure

    Dec 8, 2012

    "For this is the tragedy of man-circumstances change, but he doesn't."
    Machiavelli, Historian, Politician, Diplomat, Philosopher, Humanist and Writer

    As quoted in The Ten Commandments for Business Failure

    Dec 2, 2012

    "In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure."
    Bill Cosby, Comedian

    Dec 1, 2012

    Referring to every well-educated person, Charles Kettering, one of America's greatest inventors and innovators of all time, said, " is not a disgrace to fail, and that he must analyze each failure to find its cause...must learn how to fail intelligently. Failing is one of the greatest arts in the world. One fails towards success."
    Charles Kettering, Inventor
    Quoted in Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins

    Nov 12, 2012

    "Being successful is kind of dull."
    Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari
    Quoted in Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins
    Nolan Bushnell

    Nov 11, 2012

    Tom Crouch writing about the Wright Brothers...
    "They were as excited about failure as they were by success."
    (from The Bishop's Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright)
    The Wright Brothers
    Tom Crouch

    Nov 10, 2012

    "One must be God to be able to distinguish successes from failures and not make mistakes."
    Anton Chekov

    Nov 9, 2012

    "Good men are still liable to make mistakes, and are sometimes warmly engaged in errors, which they take for divine truths, shining in their minds with the clearest light."
    John Locke

    Oct 29, 2012

    "If there is a single tragic flaw that mars our biggest enterprises, it is conservatism - the failure to fail, and fail big, in an era of unprecedented volatility and ambiguity."
    Tom Peters Oct 17, 2012

    "Failure in Innovation - it's a price worth paying."
    Tim Harford (from: Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure . New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2011)

    Oct 15, 2012

    Man has been writing of failure since biblical times. Here we go back to the time of Aristotle, to a controversial quote that I do not believe does justice to reality:

    "It is possible to fail in many ways...while to succeed is possible only in one way."
    Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, II, 6

    Oct 14, 2012

    "I was never afraid of failure; for I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest."

    John Keats, one of the greatest and most important poets in the history of mankind - born in 1795, he died so so young, only 26. One hesitates to think what Keats would have accomplished in a full lifetime...the following are ruminations from a letter written to one James Hessey on October 8, 1818:

    "The Genius of Poetry must work out its own salvation in a man: It cannot be matured by law & precept, but by sensation ad watchfulness in itself - That which is creative must create itself - In Endymion, I leaped headlong into the Sea, and thereby have become better acquainted with the Soundings, the quicksands, & the rocks, than if I had stayed upon the green shore, and piped a silly pipe, and took tea & comfortable advice. I was never afraid of failure; for I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest."
    John Keats

    Oct 13, 2012

    Mark Zbaracki, at the time a professor at NYU, wrote a nice little piece titled "Success, Failure and the Race of Truth" for the Journal of Management Inquiry back in September of 2006. Thought I'd pull a nice quote from there:

    "...those moments when life sends us sliding along the pavement or tumbling over the handlebars are gifts, opportunities for clarity..."
    Mark J. Zbaracki

    Oct 12, 2012

    Here's John Adams writing on failure in 1755 (!):
    (I received this newest volume from the Library of America today - the man was only twenty years old when he inferred and wrote the following and much more. Incredible. The strange spelling, capitalizations etc. as in the original text)

    "If we look into History we shall find some nations rising from contemptible beginnings, and spreading their influence, 'till the whole Globe is subjected to their sway. When they have reach'd the summit of Grandeur, some minute and unsuspected Cause commonly affects their Ruin, and the Empire of the world is transferr'd to some other place. Immortal Rome was at first but an insignificant Village, inhabited only be a few abandoned Ruffins, but by degrees it rose to a stupendous Height, and excell'd in Arts and Arms all the nations that praeceeded it. But the demolition of Carthage (what one should think would have establish'd it in supream dominion) by removing all danger, suffer'd to sink into debauchery, and made it att length an easy prey to Barbarians."
    John Adams, Revolutionary Writings, 1755-1775

    "There is the greatest practical benefit in making a few failures early in life."
    T H Huxley, On Medical Education (1870)

    Oct 10, 2012

    "83 percent of Chief Executive Officers fail."
    Lucy Kellaway, writing for the Financial Times Oct 9, 2012

    "Failure is good. It's fertilizer. Everything I've learned about coaching I've learned from making mistakes."
    Rick Pitino, NBA Coach

    Oct 8, 2012 - Today I've decided to start up a compendium of my favorite quotes on failure - I'll be making a valiant attempt to post one-a-day (A quote a day keeps the failure away?? :-)

    Here's the first one for you all - from the creator of Peter Pan no less:

    "We are all failures - at least, all the best of us are."
    J. M. Barrie

    Just came across this on Gotham so here's another one for today:

    “Ever tried.
    Ever failed.
    No matter.
    Try again.
    Fail again.
    Fail better."

    Samuel Beckett

    Sunday, October 7, 2012

    A Case of Collossal Failure - Premier Cigarettes, $325 million "burned"

    Up until the 1950s cigarettes were not generally deemed to be unhealthy - during the Second World War, soldiers routinely received cigarettes as standard issue...

    But by the late 1970s and early 1980s, the outcry against smoking, led by US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, was reaching new highs daily... (interestingly Dr. Koop sported his own failure in the boom days of the late '90s with "," one of the first decent sites to provide health information to the masses - sold for fractions of a penny and now part of, but I digress...). In his most controversial commentary Dr. Koop actually compared the addictiveness of cigarettes to heroine and cocaine!

    Needless to say tobacco companies, not knowing yet that smokers will continue smoking even when death stared them straight in the face from the packaging, nor aware of the vast opportunities awaiting them in eastern Europe and in Asia - well, they panicked. And panic makes the smartest people do the dumbest things.

    In 1982 RJR began research on a new type of smokeless cigarette - Premier. The idea was to quiet the outcry by eliminating second-hand smoke - Premier was supposed to burn discretely based on an internal heat generator, and therefore produce no smoke if at all (see picture, and for greater detail visit "Premier - The 'smokeless' cigarette").

    The device was "based on a superheated piece of carbon. Sucking on the cigarette pulled hot air from the glowing carbon through a filter of tobacco and around an aluminum "flavor capsule" that released nicotine and smoke taste, which then passed through a regular filter and into the smiling, satisfied mouth of the consumer." (Steinberg, 1994, A Complete and Utter Failure, p. 23).

    As Steinberg delineates beautifully in his entertaining treatise, Premier was very problematic or several reasons:
  • Premier couldn't be lit with a regular match or even with a regular lighter - one needed to purchase special butane lighters, not typically readily available
  • Enjoying Premier required reading through and understanding a 4-page instruction booklet...
  • Even when properly lit, it was extremely difficult to draw anything out of the cigarette, which required Herculean sucking capabilities
  • They tasted bad...and smelled worse - as reported by users, who said it reminded them of burning plastic...
  • They presented a fire hazard...since it was difficult to tell when the Premier stopped burning, it was dangerous to discard...
  • Premiers cost more...
  • Perhaps the biggest problem was that, since RJR - or any other tobacco company, really - could not and would not admit that smoking represented any kind of health hazard whatsoever... - it could not advertise that it was "healthier," or indeed that it lacked the smoke that causes cancer... (RJR repeatedly used the word "cleaner" hoping that smokers would subconsciously substitute "healthier...")

    The product was introduced in October 1989. Surgeon Koop immediately pounced on it as a "drug delivery system" sending the FDA after RJR... Reportedly RJR executives were hoping that "health advocates would embrace Premier as a healthful alternative to real cigarettes." (Steinberg, 1994, A Complete and Utter Failure, p. 25)

    Premier was discontinued in February 1990, barely five months after their introduction, leaving RJR with a $325 million bill...

    Did RJR execs, or anyone for that matter, learn anything from the Premier failure?

    A last quote from Steinberg, because it's too good to leave out: "Maybe they (RJR exeutives) learned that consumers might be interested in a cigarette that wouldn't kill them, provided it didn't taste like shit and you could light it with a match." (Steinberg, 1994, A Complete and Utter Failure, p. 26)

    Read more about the Premier fiasco and other entertaining and educational consumer product failures and flops in Steinberg's excellent and often hilarious book, A Complete and Utter Failure: A Celebration of Also-Rans, Runners-Up, Never-Weres & Total Flops
  • Monday, October 1, 2012

    Top Ten Reasons "Green" Entrepreneurs Fail

    Startup Pro, an award winning blog run by Martin Zwilling, has published an interesting list of the top ten reasons first time entrepreneurs fail. I don't necessarily agree with everything Zwilling writes, but it's definitely a lot of food for thought!

    The Power of Failure

    Charles C. Manz is a professor at U Mass who focuses on the study of leadership. In 2002 Profesor Manz published a nice little book on The Power of Failure: 27 Ways to Turn Life's Setbacks Into Success - while the book is more of a motivational treatise and not an academic, research-based analysis of the subject, Manz emphasizes a lot of important and valuable lessons, as one would expect from a tenured U Mass prof.

    Old world, old economy failure used to be all about not performing, falling short, being inept, forgetting, neglecting - "A bad, bad thing that should be avoided, mourned and punished."

    How refreshing that failure in the new economy has come to mean something altogether different! Today failure is seen as "a stepping stone to success, an opportunity for learning and development, an opportunity for creative change and innovation."

    Go forth and fail as in failure you will find the seedlings of your next successful venture!