Alex Bogusky Is Wrong! Leaders Should Learn More From Failure

Posted on by in Change, Communication, Leadership, Learning, Managing Talent, Marketing, Personal Development, Planning, Remarkability, Small Business, Strategy

In a video post on the Fast Company site, Alex Bogusky, co-chair of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, argues that the classic business mantra of learning from failure is just plain wrong. In his world (and at his company), he doesn’t debrief failure or lost accounts or why a campaign isn’t working (which I find hard to believe). Rather he wants to focus on successes not failure because he thinks that learning from failure creates a culture of fear.

Moreover, he states that when his company loses a bid or contract, he simple throws away any vestige of that client in their offices and moves on as if that client or bid never existed. In his world, they’ve never lost a bid because if they didn’t get the contract then it isn’t a client they would have wanted to work with.

Besides the fact that I find it hard to believe that his company actually works this way (like they’ve never fired someone for underperforming or they only evaluate based on successes), I find it just bad advice. The reality is that most businesses need to do more learning from failure–not less.

As a consultant, I spend my life walking into companies where problems exist (and they exist in every company, including Bogusky’s). And I have yet to find any company that is really great at evaluation and learning from failure. Most business leaders are so busy trying to stay on top of all their work, that they rarely ever take time to stop and learn from their failures/missed opportunities/mistakes etc. Therefore, they tend to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. As the saying goes (slightly altered),

“Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Now, if a leader or manager is a blamer (i.e. a bad leader or manager) then that is a problem–but not with the idea of learning from failure. Rather it’s a failure of the leader/manager to carry out their job well. Likewise, if they’re creating a culture of fear vs. trust, then that’s a leadership issue, not an evaluation problem.

Great leader/managers know that learning from the past, both positive and negative, is essential to improving and optimizing the future. They understand that if there’s a problem, it’s not a person who’s the problem, it’s the system. And the only way to fix the system is to debrief and make sure that they and their team have learned from what happened so that the same problem isn’t repeated. No learning = ongoing problem.

So don’t listen to Alex on this one. Increase your learning from failure (and success). Invest more time in evaluating what happened so that you can both eliminate/minimize any problems and optimize/leverage any successes. It’s not an either/or. It’s a both/and. And in most cases, there’s not enough learning going on. So I’d argue that you need to increase your learnings so you can increase your successes!

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you want to know the five questions you should always ask when evaluating, click here>>

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One Response to “Alex Bogusky Is Wrong! Leaders Should Learn More From Failure”

  1. Dave Hess 6 May 2010 at 10:05 am #

    Bruce,
    This guy is so wrong. Many times some of the greatest business clients I have gotten have been after initially being rejected. To have given up would have been so short sighted. In addition to ultimately securing the clients that initially said no, some of the relationships from those initial companies moved to other companies and we added them also as clients.

    Some of the best investments I own we would not have if we had given up after rejection or not learned from losing other deals.
    The wealthiest people I know love to tell people about their failures and what they learned from them.


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