Product development, like all other types of engineering projects, requires taking risks. Sometimes new products fail. In fact, statistically, more products and services fail than are successful in the marketplace. But not many leaders would readily agree that failure can have a positive outcome.
A Growth Mindset
Failures should be viewed as learning opportunities. We improve our behaviors, skills, and technical capabilities when we understand the gap between current performance and our desired level of accomplishment. Failure allows us to grow.
A recent article in Harvard Business Review (November 2015) describes failure as the ability to tap into a “growth mindset”. In contrast, a “fixed mindset” is one that assumes outcomes are pre-determined through innate skills or through good luck. People with a fixed mindset do not always recognize learning opportunities since they assume they cannot add to their own talent pool or development.
The “growth mindset,” on the other hand, is one in which people recognize they can get better through effort and practice. Years ago, Tiger Woods famously changed his golf swing (apparently before he needed a lot of prescriptions for back pain…). When we make radical changes in our training and execution of a skill, sometimes our performance declines temporarily. We may fail. Yet, seeking the challenge and sticking with a plan for improvement will lead to better performance in the end.
Thus, a person with a growth mindset accepts that a failure has occurred and will work to improve performance next time. These people will practice, practice, and practice. They recognize that the payback is proportional to the effort they input. Managers can support performance improvement by accepting failure and learning from it.
In new product development (NPD), for instance, a failed product launch may be related to the technical functionality of the product or may be due to a poor marketing message. Learning the root cause of the failure will help all future NPD efforts. You just also might be able to profitably salvage the current product!
Acting without Action
While a crucial step in learning requires acknowledging failure and taking steps to practice and improve, we sometimes get bogged down in action for the sake of action. Let’s look at an ordinary golfer, Tom, instead of Tiger Woods. Tom goes to the driving range weekly and hits a couple of buckets of balls. He chats with his buddy about practicing at the range. Yet when they play a full round of golf on Saturday, Tom’s score doesn’t really improve.
What’s going on? Tom has been practicing at the driving range – just like Tiger Woods, right? Wrong. Tom is just going through the motions. He is acting without action. Tiger’s practice was focused, deliberate, and detailed. He worked through every motion of his golf swing. He worked at it day and night. He studied golf swings of the masters and he was coached. The coach provided feedback on his performance so Tiger could learn how to close the gap between his current skill level and the desired future state.
Tom, on the other hand, was not focused. He spent half his time at the driving range chatting with his buddy. He golfed as a hobby, not a passion. More importantly, Tom just hit the golf balls. He did not have a picture in his mind of how a perfect golf swing should look. He lacked coaching and feedback to close a gap between his current and desired performance. Tom was simply acting without action.
We do the same thing with our business projects. We might tweak the advertising campaign of a new product. We will add features and functionality to “improve” or “enhance” its technical capabilities. Yet, these are unfocused actions – doing something just for the sake of doing something. Without proper customer and market feedback, we might just be acting without action.
NPD projects should learn from failure by shadowing and querying customers. Products are successful when they deliver an affordable and convenient solutions that address customers’ specific issues.
Growth and Action for Learning
Failure happens. Projects are cancelled, new products don’t make sales, and we face professional setbacks. Yet the key to success is learning from failure. Continuous improvement comes from evaluating failure and taking deliberate steps to learn from any real or perceived defect.
First, you must equip yourself with a growth mindset. Outcomes are not a result of bad luck or only because of in-born talent. We can improve our own performance through deliberate practice and applied effort. Recognizing the gap between current and desired performance allows us to design a path forward. In NPD, we must fully understand the customer in order to design, develop, and launch an effective product solution.
Next, as we accept failure and recognize that defeats introduce learning opportunities, we must take focused action to address the performance gap. Acting without action is just stirring the pot. Or as Einstein is quoted as saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” In NPD we must carefully survey markets and customers to understand their needs and how existing product solutions meet or don’t meet these needs.
Professional skills development also requires focused practice and deliberate actions to improve performance. Many individuals seek to demonstrate learning and continuous improvement through professional certification. We offer new product skills development with industry best practices in innovate coupled with certification training in New Product Development Professional (NPDP) workshops. You can demonstrate continuous learning through an affordable self-study course or in a customized face-to-face training session. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 281-280-8717 for information on new product development training or professional management coaching. At Simple-PDH, we want to make it simple for you to study, learn, and earn and maintain your professional certifications.
Study. Learn. Earn. Simple.
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