A Business Built on Failure


What billion dollar industry tests it's products extensively to make sure they fail just the right amount?

It you're a bit of a cynic (occasionally I am) then you might name any industry.  If washing machines never failed the companies would never sell new ones. It's tempting to believe that they build in a failure.   But there is an industry that won't release a product until they've studied the 'failure rates' to make sure it fails just enough.

Okay...here's the industry.  The electronic game industry.  They send beta games to the testers to find the balance between challenging (I'll try again, I don't mind failure) and too difficult (I quit, I'll never win).

Tests reveal that you and I are more likely to stop playing a game IF we win.  Do you play solitaire on your computer or mobile phone?  Most solitaire games have a win rate between 12 and 25%.  If you're like most players, you'll tell yourself that you'll just play another hand....or a little bit more...until you win.

As an improv performer and teacher we're constantly trying to stay in that sweet spot of failure and success.  Here are the three ways to do it.  I call them The 3 Failure Frames:

  1. One way we do this is by redefining failure.  Failure is necessary to learning.  It's like riding a bike, you loose your balance (fail) until you learn the skill.  Guided missiles only know they're on course when they veer off course and receive a correction.
  2. Another way is accepting failure as an offer of a new direction.  If a jazz musician plays a missed note or timing he or she will often repeat it until it becomes a motif, letting the 'failure' take them in a new direction.
  3. Another way is to remove the whole concept of 'failure' and accept the process as play (or playful).  Baseball players don't hit home runs all the time and neither do they think of it as failure ...it's part of the game (the play).  Great chefs see a kitchen with limited ingredients as a challenge not a failure to prepare - they will rise to the challenge as if playing a game.

What other tools are there to 're-frame' or recover from failure?