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Lessons Learned From Failure


No one likes failure. But in the changing world around us, there’s no such thing as a safe innovation bet, and being successful requires a degree of risk it once did not. We will all make mistakes, miss the mark and occasionally take a bet that doesn’t pay off.

But there’s a different type of failure that’s worse: when past successes blind us to changing needs. Eventually, even our best successes can turn into failures if we don’t keep pace with the world around us. Consider, for example, the slew of technology companies that once dominated their markets and soon found their dominance undermined simply because the pace of technological change made them obsolete.

So how do we make sure this doesn’t happen to us? By <em>embracing</em> those very factors that caused our past failures and are making our past successes obsolete.

Understand Customers’ Changing Needs
At Steelcase, we’ve been facing this challenge for the past few years. We make workstation, conference room, and private office products, but the rise of mobile technology began to threaten the traditional workplace model. With the emergence of robust wireless networks and ubiquitous mobile devices, we began to realize that people (at least theoretically) could work wherever they wanted. So why come into the office? Why would someone use our workstation product when they can work from the cafe down the hall -- or down the street?


Adapt to Change
When we began to research how spaces support (or don’t support) people using technology, we found they needed better workspaces for teams to connect and use their mobile devices to work together in ways that could never be supported at home or at a coffee shop. So last year, we launched a new kind of workstation that allows users to walk up and connect their laptops and control up to four large screens, using them for videoconferencing or collaboration.

Turn Failure Into Opportunity
The reason we were able to continue being successful is that we sought to understand the factors of our changing world. As a result, we placed a series of smart developmental bets on how to create a new kind of workspace. When you really listen to your customers and continuously seek to understand their processes, you can see subtle changes that may lead you to develop a better solution.

In the end, none of us can avoid failures, but we can take a deep interest in the factors that create risk -- and instead of treating them with hostility, we can look for the opportunities they might present.

Photo Credit: @iStockphoto.com/RG71

Copyright (c) 2011 Studio One Networks. All rights reserved.

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