Looking back nearly 25 years ago, I was sitting at my table in my hotel in San Francisco, probably about two in the morning, wondering what the reaction would be to a new game my software company was about to launch. I was looking at our distribution plan and I was uneasy. I was terrified that we would fail. Just hours earlier, my co-founders and I were sitting around a table, shrink wrapping the product together, with a major trade show taking place the following morning.
Less than a year before, I had sat at lunch with the Japanese President of the computer company I worked for, and he explained to me that as far as he was concerned, there was no opportunity for success without failure. He praised me for trying new things relative to the job I had been given to promote a new operating system for an innovative new personal computer. He told me a remarkable story about the differences in theory behind Japanese research and American research – not really related to the people, but to the need for instant success, and the fear of failure. I remember it well, because I was fired the next morning by my American supervisor for taking too many risks. It was the only time in my adult life that I was fired from a job. But it gave me the opportunity to start something new, and to create new products and ideas that evolved into something successful.
It was about the same time that I became really excited about motorsport in general, and Formula One and CART IndyCar specifically. There is a purity in racing. Everything is measured. Everything is calculated. And there is no room to hide. You win, or you lose. And everything is on the table for everyone to see. It is the perfect technical competition and when properly done, the ideal opportunity for one person to excel based on the performance of a team of people. Wow.
At the time, Honda was not involved in U.S racing, but they became involved a bit later and they were terrible. Engines blew constantly, and even with superstar drivers, they couldn’t get their act together. But, after a few years, they improved and then, they won a championship. Today, every engine in the IRL Indycar Series is powered by Honda. So, they can’t lose in that formula.
Today, I’m reminded of that for several reasons. The economy is forcing people to get serious about understanding where they stand, where their professional and personal lives stand, and what they can do to reinvent, or even invent for the first time – something successful. I’m also reminded about that because I’m seeing new innovation all around me at the moment. And there are ironies as well. Honda just quit F-1, and racing guru Ross Brawn picked up the team for a song and with the Chinese Grand Prix about to take place, has outpaced everyone, winning both races so far in 2009, and giving the entire paddock fits with every rising sun.
I’m reminded of it because I’ve had the chance to spend time with some of the people I collaborated with 25 years ago, including software genius Bill Volk. And I am reminded of the value failure can have when creating something successful every day at R|com, my current adventure. We’re helping our clients with new ideas, new products, and new vision, and it is leading to some exciting new opportunities.
And, I’m reminded of it by a short film. A really interesting film by Honda, part of their Dream the Impossible documentary series. The film is called Failure: The Secret to Success. I think everyone should watch it.