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Failing Forward: Learning From Every Experience

Continuous improvement does not always mean continuous success. In fact, for every success there are also inevitable failures along the way. Not all innovations will be successful. Some challenges require detours or do-overs. Nobody bats a thousand. But if we’re going to fail—and we will—let’s fail forward, turning what could be a setback into even a little forward progress.

I can think of a leading U.S.-based, global consumer packaged goods (CPG) company that perfectly illustrates the idea of failing forward. It’s a respected portfolio of brands with annual revenue of more than $15 billion. This company’s definition of success is a new product or line extension that achieves $100 million in sales, which obviously is a lot of money but is still less than one percent of the organization’s total revenue. And even though they develop more than 100 new products a year, only one product every few years reaches the $100 million dollar mark. Does this Fortune 500 company consider itself a failure? Not at all. They keep innovating, and when a product hits it hits big. In 2019, the company beat expectations for both first and second quarterly earnings.

Another example of failing forward is the space program of every nation that’s ever gone to space. This summer, the nation commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11, humankind’s first successful landing on the moon and subsequent safe return to Earth. But tragically, there were many prior failures for both the U.S. and Soviet Union during the early years of the space race and more recently within the U.S. space shuttle flights. Recently, the attempted soft landing on the moon of the Chandrayaan-2 Vikram module from India failed. According to NASA, of 109 lunar missions, only 61 have been successful.

What’s the takeaway from all this failure? Take what you can get from every experience. During moments of success, take the opportunity to celebrate and build on your achievements. In less fortunate circumstances, take heart in knowing setbacks can provide the fuel and insight for long-term growth.

Nobody dislikes failure more than I do, and at Borden a core value is a Passion To Win. If we fail at something, we’ll fail forward, always ready to keep building on a brand legacy 162 years in the making.