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Dismal Failure is the new Competitive Advantage for Western Society

Simon Stibbs - Friday, July 01, 2011

One of the reoccurring themes I took away from attending the AHRI 2011 National Convention held in Sydney early this month was the change in mindset required by company’s competing for market share and growth in western economies. It became very clear that those leading companies that are able to create “temporary monopolies” within markets, have the luxury of operating in a less price sensitive environment, but most interestingly they tend to have a healthier view of failure. 

It is very clear that strategically the US, Europe and Australia will largely be unable to compete with countries such as China and India in commodity production. Our cost inputs such as labor simply render us commercially unviable. So if production is out, what’s in? Business strategy for Western Society has to involve taking the lead in markets and in some instances like Google creating markets that did not previously exist 10 years ago. The joy of being innovative in today’s information age buys your company the privilege of a short term monopoly in your market. The monopoly will last as long as it takes for your innovation to become main stream and competition strips the value out of the new market, driving prices down. Not withstanding this, there is the obvious commercial and branding benefit of leading the pack. The benefit is twofold – not only will the monopoly give you greater price flexibility, but will also attract the most switched on and brightest talent from around the world. Countries that are seen as leading in innovation benefit from this as a whole. An example of this is Silicon Valley in Northern California which is world-renowned as the leading hub for high-tech innovation and development, attracting the best software technology professionals from around the world. This congregation of talent feeds on a culture of entrepreneurship, risk taking and risk–funding.

The key drivers around innovative economies are that Risk/Reward/ Success and Failure are all key portfolios in the innovators quiver. When failure is feared and reinforced as a negative outcome within company cultures the organisation will build a strong resistance to innovation.  It is the mindset that many corporations attach to failure which needs to change. Rather than referring to failure in the context of poor performance, failure needs to be embraced and accepted, even celebrated when companies are striving to be better, faster and more innovative. After all, the gap between glory and mediocrity can in most instances be distilled down to merely a reflection on how an individual and or organisation view its failures. Publicly listed companies typically as a rule tend to have a low tolerance for risk and failure. Large shareholding groups want certainty and low risk to their investment, not a great foundation for inspiring entrepreneurship and innovation. Which is why if you look at a majority of the truly most innovative products and services that have come to the fore in the last decade a large majority have been birthed in University dorms (Napster/Facebook) or in the garage – at least at the beginning.             

Retaining the best employees is all about providing positive, encouraging and innovative environments for them to work in. Being at the forefront of innovation can give organizations the pick of the talent pool from both the local and global market place. So perhaps the question we need to all be asking is not - How do we celebrate our successes? Perhaps the real question we should all be asking in how do we celebrate our failures? Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb amongst other things, was quoted as saying “I failed my way to success.” Perhaps success may be the desired outcome, but only a road called failure will get you there.     

At Edward George we love working with companies which think outside the box, are innovative, and supply a positive, encouraging work culture for new employees. 

Simon Stibbs

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