If at first you don’t succeed, fail fail again: lessons from SXSW 2015

IMG_1074South By Southwest is certainly a meeting of firsts. I experienced my first virtual reality experience thanks to Google Cardboard (flying through trees!), my first oculus rift endeavor courtesy of NASA (walking on the moon!), and then there were the talking vegetables.

But one session, in particular, led by Google[x] Captain of Moonshots, Astro Teller, left a lasting impression.

Mr. Teller took the stage for his keynote presentation and had that immediate, natural ease a good presenter has. Clad in a simple button down shirt and jeans, hair neatly in a braid, he began his tale of…. business failures. And the importance and essentiality of them to achieve success. “In fact,” he said, “I don’t know of any other way you could do it.” What? At this point, my mind was a cacophony of questions – ok, so do we need to build in a plan to fail? how much time do you allow for failure? how do you know if your failure is a success? what if you fail to fail?

Sensing the audience minds spinning, Mr. Teller gave us a gentle smile and walked us through his thinking: “Fail first, listen early, get out of the conference room, avoid failing to fail,” he neatly summarized. To not only just keep pace, but even more so to stay ahead, we must fail – not for failure’s sake – but to learn from it – to get better, to achieve bigger things, to go after our moonshots, or big bets, – however we define them. We moved to the Q&A section of his talk and a question flew in via Twitter: what if your company is small, has tight budgets and can’t afford to fail?

Mr. Teller’s response? “You’ve missed the entire point!! You can’t afford not to!” (Audience laughing; Mr. Teller looking incredulous.)

And of course he’s right. If we want to push boundaries and make big changes vs. incremental ones, we have to embrace failure. Applying this to our communications profession and client engagements, it impacts how we design campaigns today and the components required to break through in today’s 24/7, multi-channel world: market research, deep audience insights, influencer identification, content of all shapes and sizes pulsed out on a myriad of channels, pressure tested tactics – always paired with rich analytics to measure and refine. Emphasis on analytics – using those tools we’ll know if we’re hitting the mark or “failing,” allowing us to make mid-course corrections to hit the mark and make our moonshot.

To always get better.

And as the communications profession navigates its own evolution – our moonshot – we’ll have to crave the failure and growing pains to get to the other side. But it’s worth it. Just ask the guy with those talking vegetables.

Kristen’s 16 years of healthcare public relations experience includes the development of public awareness and public affairs campaigns, patient and physician education, coalition development work, media relations, industry conference dominance and new product introductions.