Fast Company

Inspiring Design

Edward Rothstein recently considered the role that failure can play in improving the design of products and services.

What do you learn more from: Success or failure? Take the Fast Company poll.

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  • Jack Quinn

    Benjamin Franklin answered to a comment on his many failures, "I haven't failed; I've discovered ten thousand ways that don't work." Total failure may clue one in to being in the wrong line of enterprise, but that itself is kind of a successful discovery. I built and operated a string of retail businesses that always contained non-fatal failures. The object of succeeding refinements in operation and physical design were to make the business and place of business receed until total focus was on the customer, his/her wants/needs and the development of our business's expertise in guiding the transaction to a successful conclusion. The failure I learned to avoid was being satisfied when I made "a" sale and a profit. A sale is never complete when the product goes out the door. It's the business's responsibility to listen and discern what the customer wants and realize, even if the customer doesn't, what the customer needs and blend the two. After all, we can't expect the customer to know the product as well as we do. A blend of the want and the need (guided by business expertise) comes closest to making a sale a successful transaction. The sale is a success when the product is put to use, does a good job, and pleases the custmer or the recipient. If a business doesn't care about the customer, only about making "a" sale, it is failing at least its potential and probably failing to earn that customer's loyalty and appreciation. Failure to surprise the customer with unexpected excellence, respect and care is the absence of quality success. This is highly prevalent in today's profit focused businesses. Our objective should be to make any enterprise the best of its kind; profit is only a by-product of doing a business right.
    One of the biggest failures is hidden in success. The failure in success is to be satisfied with what looks good and failure to move on the opportunities success presents, leaving outstanding performance laying on the table...for any competitor to pick up. Failure isn't usually fatal, but success is never final. As we progressively design out failures we increase the successful elements of operations. It never ends. The best thing about failure is its trick of piercing our egos painfully enough that we won't make the same mistake again, won't be so sure of ourselves again; and we try to replace it with a success...or at least a fresh, new daring mistake.