Tried and died. One and done. Learning from failures.


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One of the frustrations I experience is when managers or analysts share with me that their organizations tried to implement progressive management methods, and they either failed or abandoned them. A prominent example is an unsuccessful attempt to implement activity-based costing to measure and manage costs and profit levels of products, services, channels and customers. Other enterprise performance management examples include risk management, customer analytics, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and the balanced scorecard.

What causes these failures or the quick loss of interest?

Experiencing failure is a foundation for success

What we are discussing here is a topic few wish to discuss – failure. I advocate having a positive view of failure and leveraging disappointing or botched implementations of an advanced managerial method or system as a learning experience. Failure can be a great teacher. Perseverance and determination is important for success. Don’t believe that one needs to avoid failure. You have to accept risk when taking on improvement projects.

There are some inspirational lessons about early career failures by individuals who ultimately succeeded. Consider these:

  • Winston Churchill failed sixth grade, and he was subsequently defeated in every election for public office until he became prime minister at the age of 62.
  • Charles Schultz, the creator of Peanuts, had every cartoon he submitted rejected by his high school yearbook staff.
  • Twenty-seven publishers rejected Dr. Seuss’s first book, To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.
  • After film star Fred Astaire’s first screen test, the memo from the testing director of MGM, dated 1933, read, “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.”
  • Henry Ford went broke five times before he succeeded.
  • Thomas Edison’s teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything,” and he was fired from his first two jobs for being “non-productive.”
  • Albert Einstein’s PhD thesis was rejected as being “irrelevant and fanciful.”

Is this not enough evidence that failure is just another name for experience?

To read further the rest of this article, please click on this hypertext from my monthly article I write for on May 3, 2012 titled “Tried and Died, One and Done: What to do with Failure.” The article concludes with this:

Lessons learned: Valid methods don’t die but go dormant

The ultimate lesson is that implementers should not underestimate the importance of behavioral change management and overcoming people’s natural resistance to change. This includes employees who are afraid of knowing the truth and do not want to be held accountable or measured.

My advice is to consider how much emphasis to place on three factors that, when combined, overcome resistance to change: discomfort with the current situation; a vision of what a better state looks like; and first practical steps (e.g., a pilot project or a rapid prototyping exercise). Many project champions dwell on the second one, a vision, by explaining the benefits of their proposed project. The key is to focus on the first factor by creating discomfort in managers and co-workers. Constantly ask, “How long do we want to continue to make decisions with flawed, misleading or incomplete information?” That creates the interest in the vision – a solution.

After a tried-and-died project fails, the need that triggered interest typically does not go away. Like a hibernating bear, the project simply goes dormant. Inevitably managers will repeat the same questions, like “Where do we make or lose money?” There will always be a second chance to successfully implement the project. Learn from your failures. Do not underestimate the value of experience. Never lose hope.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Gary Cokins, CPIM
Gary Cokins (Cornell University BS IE/OR, 1971; Northwestern University Kellogg MBA 1974) is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, and author in advanced cost management and enterprise performance and risk management (EPM/ERM) systems. He is the founder of Analytics-Based Performance Management LLC, an advisory firm located in Cary, North Carolina at Gary is the Executive in Residence of the Institute of Management Accountants (


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