On the Quality of Failure


  • Bengt-Arne Vedin Royal Institute of Technology/Institut Métamatique




Management, Failure, Success, Innovation, Success Lock-In, Learning


No innovation without failed experiments. No acquisition of competency without hard work, efforts to translate mistakes and insufficient – failed – attempts into mastery. The human condition is one defined by trial and error. Success equates with narrow escape from failure, whereas failure may be a success just missed. The purpose of management can be said to achieve success, so the management of failure is a key one, seeking to turn failure into profit. Almost no successful solutions remain eternally, so signals indicating that they have arrived in their twilight zone are important. Success may be too comforting and lulling, creating a dangerous success lock-in. Courting failure by acting against conventional wisdom and routine intuitions may, though risky, generate huge payoffs. A productive failure management should appreciate that failure is a way to uncertainty reduction, to better information and knowledge, new wisdom and new intuitions. Failure can and should be celebrated and harvested. The most successful mineral prospectors are those who drill more holes; while their percentage of dry ones is average, their number of lucky ones makes for success. The same holds for ideas, where there is the additional benefit that a larger number of ideas, diverse as they are, makes for improved idea handling proficiency.

Author Biography

Bengt-Arne Vedin, Royal Institute of Technology/Institut Métamatique

Professor emeritus, Innovation Management


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