The Value of Minor Failure

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Innovation is risky business.  Perhaps a better way to phrase it would be, “Innovation is messy.”  We come up with theoretical ideas we believe are brilliant and hold onto them, doing everything we can to transform the world until our brilliant idea is the standard.  Far too many of us hold to our idea no matter what the market or the industry tells us in response.

Mark Otero, the co-founder of KlickNation had a different idea.  He quit his job, cashed in on his retirement, sold his house, and opened a yogurt shop.  The frozen yogurt kept him alive while every dime of profit and every spare moment went into programming mobile game aps.  It seemed to do well for a while, but after thirty products and shrinking revenues, he had to change tack altogether. So, after thirty games that didn’t take off, he made game number thirty-one, this time for facebook.

By the end of 2009, Superhero City pulled in $5000 per day and KlickNation was an unmitigated success.  Then came a multimillion dollar deal with NBC Universal.  After that, a $35 million dollar sale to Electronic Arts.  Now, he heads up EA’s BioWare Social division.

What strikes me as truly brilliant is the way Otero responded to failure with adjustment and business plan modification.  He said in a presentation to the alumni department of his alma mater, UC Davis, “When you have thirty failures, you are either a madman or you are onto something.”  Is it any wonder, with that attitude, that he’s succeeded?

The idea of learning from failure isn’t new, but almost all that’s written on the subject focuses on catastrophic failures from which a battered entrepreneur pulls himself up to brush off his clothes and face another day with dreams intact.  Otero’s measured approach to regular postulating, testing, adjusting, and starting all over again isn’t about overcoming obstacles.  It’s about good business.  I recently wrote a post about my faith in the Shewhart Cycle and the impact of hypothesis testing in business.  Perhaps there’s no clearer example of a technology startup that followed that path to success than KlickNation.

What are you doing?  Are you actively testing assumptions and learning from minor failures?  Are you putting any of your assumptions to the test at all?  Do repeated failures crush your spirit or do they drive you to create new assumptions, new tests, and new paths?

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