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In a memorable scene from the 1990s blockbuster Apollo 13, a NASA Flight Director warned his pessimistic team that when it came to bringing home a stranded shuttle crew: “failure is not an option”. In true movie magic fashion, this motivational commandment ultimately led to a breakthrough that turned a nearly-certain tragedy into an astonishing triumph (complete with epic soundtrack and uplifting Tom Hanks voiceover).

Project Management Success

Well, if an intrepid documentarian went behind the scenes in a thriving and dynamic adaptable business, they would be surprised to discover that failure IS an option. Here are four reasons why, unlike their rigid counterparts, adaptable businesses turn setbacks into success.

1) Adaptable Businesses Accept that Failure is Inevitable
Adaptable businesses are constantly looking to improve. As such, they intelligently and thoughtfully experiment with new ways of working by changing workflows, processes, policies, team configurations, and so on. Invariably, some efforts do not lead to meaningful and sustainable improvement — and occasionally there are outright misfires. However, while failure is obviously disappointing, it is not debilitating and disheartening. It is part of the reality of always asking “how can we do this even better?”

2) Adaptable Businesses Learn from Failure
When asked if he was growing frustrated at his lack of progress in the lab, Thomas Edison said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Mr. Edison would thrive in an adaptable business that uses collaborative work management (CWM) tools to easily configure — and as necessary re-configure — customized workflows and processes at all levels. This enables teams to learn from failure instead of re-live it, and evolve how they work to align with changing priorities. 

3) Adaptable Businesses Build a Culture of Trust and Support
Adaptable businesses cultivate, celebrate and continuously evolve a culture that is rooted in employee trust and support, and in which individuals and teams are inspired to lift each other up rather than compelled to tear each other down. The importance of this foundation cannot be overstated, because when failure happens — either through experimenting to improve or as the result of internal/external triggers — what matters most is whether people respond or react. In the former scenario, the emphasis is on solutions. In the latter, the fixation is on blame.  

4) Adaptable Businesses Focus on Results
Adaptable businesses do not define setbacks as neglecting to meet milestones or failing to complete projects. Instead, they focus on what matters most: results. This paradigm enables organization-wide flexibility and agility, as teams are not locked into workflows, priorities and plans that may have made strategic sense in the past, but are no longer valid in the present. At the same time and just as importantly, this approach gives teams the freedom and authorization to alter, re-invent or pull the plug on initiatives that may be running fine in terms of process, but are nevertheless not working well in terms of impact.    

The Bottom Line
Traditionally, the word failure has arguably been the most dreaded term in the business vocabulary — even more chilling than recession or budget cut. But today, when change and uncertainty are the norm rather than the exception, organizations cannot have an aversion to failure and unrealistically try to avoid it (or deny it) at all costs. Instead, they need to exploit failure, and turn it from a liability into an asset. Adaptable businesses develop and demonstrate this ability, and in doing so put themselves on the road to many more profitable successes in the future, and far fewer costly setbacks.


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