80/20 RULE, Embracing Failure

Many times I have stated we learn through failure. Sounds cliché but it is true in so many applications in life. We have ideas and test them, these hypothesis succeed and break giving us data to build the next hypothesis.

A_B testing shows us which is better but not if it is the best so we test again. Often I tell the story of the US and Russia space race in building rocket engines. The Russian approach was build and break then repeat after analysis. In the US we used computer modeling rather than build and break. The US produced a highly capable efficient engine, Russia built a work horse that we still use today.

The lesson is that if we break our models we rebuild stronger. It is human nature to back off when reaching a goal then focus on efficiency over more power. I have had many failure start-ups and a few successes. Product tests and learnings show us direction but not how to scale. Early exit is a very smart safe path that I have taken and feel with no data that I have left upside on the table.

Recently I launched a service and found that the core was good but needed a communications layer that my team was unable to deliver effectively from a skills, core, and time/money perspective. The answer was sell my learnings to a competitor who can do both elements. My heart is low as I would have enjoyed turning what I knew into a new strong company but the math did not work for the market or finances.

The task now is to embrace the failure on my part/dream/idea and now embrace the consulting that will see the core concept emerge in a manner I did not expect but honors the core concept.

Ideas are not fixed, they flow through us and 80% of them are not so great but 20% are great. We fear that if we do not execute on the ones that seem to have greatness potential we loose our one ticket to greatness.

The truth is we need to keep failing then pulling ourselves up again, that is how we get stronger in spirit like the Russian rocket engine. Retrospectives are how we get smarter like the US engine. Shuttering a start-up is harder than starting one. One makes choices, then others see only a small part and judge then we look back in retrospective again and wonder did I make the right choice. It is our nature to look back through a long glass and question but we must embrace our choices.

Like other areas we all do the best we can with our current skills, our current knowledge the current environmentals’ and current market. Now to start building another 80 failures!


Tim Bates