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Learning the lessons from Rocky: Fail fast and succeed quicker

Mon 22 Feb 2016

Rocky Balboa

ULLMO_JP Executive Portrait 4x3 H-6907.jpgJean-Pierre Ullmo, VP EMEA Sales at Changepoint, discusses the probability of failure in undertaking digital initiatives, but puts forward his key to survival…

One of the greatest film characters of all time is Rocky Balboa, a boxer played by Sylvester Stallone, who is defeated in his big showdown at the end of the first film in the series but goes on to become the heavyweight champion of the world. The fact that his path to glory is far from straightforward makes Rocky an inspirational man, but in the real world, setbacks and failed initiatives can be a lot more difficult to accept.

Learning the lessons from the past

Digital transformation projects are high on the agenda for many enterprises as we head into 2016, which makes the failure of some initiatives a very real possibility. As we sail into increasingly uncharted waters, there can be no guarantee that every attempt will be a resounding success. Yet it is important to bear in mind the words of basketball coach John Wooden, who once observed: “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”

The challenge of digitally transforming a business cannot be shied away from, because those who remain stubbornly in the analogue world will find it increasingly difficult to keep up. Just look at Kodak: once the king of photography, it failed to embrace digital technologies and plunged from market leader to bankruptcy, as competitors raced off into the distance.

Another famous name, Blockbuster Video, dismissed a proposed partnership with digital upstart Netflix in 2000 and persisted with its store-driven model. But as people began to increasingly use streaming, rather than stores and DVDs for their fix of movies like Rocky, Blockbuster hit the wall within the space of a decade.

As market leaders with shareholders to answer to and quarterly targets to meet, Kodak and Blockbuster Video were afraid of failing with attempts to digitalise their business. But by standing still while the world moved around them, rather than accepting the possibility of partial failure of digital initiatives, they stood and watched the entire business sink.

Accepting failure: When to throw in the towel

For those organisations that are proceeding with digital, it’s critical to be able to recognise when you’re better off cutting your losses and abandoning a specific project rather than powering ahead to certain doom. Sometimes factors such as a lack of planning and due diligence, poor execution or even actions from uncontrollable outside forces can send projects astray.

Of course it can be difficult to write off something you’ve invested time and money into, and this can be particularly unpopular with people who have played a part in the project. Yet it’s vital that CIOs and other decision makers act decisively, taking action to limit damage by snuffing out a small flame before it grows and engulfs the entire business. If not effectively dealt with, a misfiring internal digitalisation project could grow into an increasingly resource-intensive concern. The last thing enterprises need during a transformational period is a black hole eating up time and budget.

To quickly identify when projects are failing, and take action, CIOs must be given real-time visibility; a printed monthly report sat on a desk could allow problems to slip under the radar and gather momentum. As such, it’s critical to make the whole portfolio visible to the CIO; with context they will be able to make agile decisions without having to worry about the effect it could have on other projects.

This information holds more value than just a single use: data must be recorded, so that it can be studied to give a clear picture of exactly what went wrong and why. Boxers like Rocky Balboa sit with trainers to study videos and statistics from previous fights, analysing what happened. Taking this approach should mean history will not repeat itself further down the line.

Heavyweight champion of the world

As they evolve to operate in the new digital economy, businesses are putting themselves at risk of failure. The key to survival is not being afraid to take a hit: you do not become heavyweight champion of the world without surviving a few body blows along the way. Don’t drop to your knees when you receive a right hook: accept that every single initiative and project will not succeed. They must ensure all projects are visible to the C-Suite as they happen, and not be too proud to pull the plug when some don’t work out. Accepting failure in this way will enable them to continue stronger than ever, having learned lessons.

By recognising the importance of failing fast, businesses can throw off the shackles and embark on the digital transformation journey with confidence. Then they will be on course to become heavyweight champion of the world.


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