Failure must always be an option

Jeff Bezos

Amazon’s A to Z of successful failure.

Unlike most business leaders, Jeff Bezos has no problem admitting that he has lost billions of dollars on failed experiments. As anyone involved in innovation knows, thinking up new ideas is easy. Sorting out the good from the bad is the difficult bit. Bezos claims that embracing failure is an important part of surviving and thriving as a modern business.

Fail often and early.

The days of spending years researching and developing a product that you pin your hopes and dreams on are over. The reality of live testing ideas in the harsh reality of the market place at the earliest opportunity is the only viable option. It requires nerve. It requires deep pockets. It requires and open mind. It requires resilience.

As Bezos puts it, “What really matters is that companies that don’t continue to experiment – companies that don’t embrace failure – they eventually get into a desperate position, where the only thing they can do is make a ‘Hail Mary’ bet at the very end of their corporate existence. I don’t believe in bet-the-company bets.”

The latest Bezos brush with failure.

Bezos is a man who puts his own money in the line of fire. Most recently, he invested $250m into the Washington Post. He admits he doesn’t know a thing about the newspaper business, but is “very optimistic about the future of the Post” despite seeing it as “hopeless” from the outside. Can he work his magic on the newspaper industry as he did in the publishing world? Can he transform, the local bias of this great institution into a global threat to the BBC and CNN etc? Only time will tell. I wouldn’t bet against him showing us all how it’s done.

Why the Telegraph might take note.

While Bezos may not know the newspaper business, he does know the internet. He also knows how to do business in pretty much every corner of the planet. Here in London, the Telegraph newspaper founded by Arthur B Sleigh in June 1855 has seen daily circulation decline from 552,065 in early 2013 to 523,048 in March 2014. One of it’s problems is the profile of its ageing audience (average 62). In response, the Telegraph have included print sections for kids as young as 8 and been accused of dumbing down by replacing experienced journalists and news managers with less-experienced staff and SEO specialists. It is a work in progress.

The demographics of failure.

The average age of the Telegraph’s online readership is 42 and 32 on mobile devices. You can see how this is going. The Telegraph can give thanks to modern medicine for helping it’s print audience live longer, but the mobile fans my yet represent the best long-term investment. If I were the Telegraph, I would be keeping an eye on Mr Bezos and the Washington Post. He will try a wide range of innovative ideas, many of which will fail but all of which will serve to help him find the best solution faster than anyone else.