Did that headline grab you? If so, it’s probably because it sounds like a bit of a contradiction. The status quo maintains that failure is a bad thing that should be hidden. In our industry, no one wants to create a new flavor or a new food category that people don’t like or worse, completely ignore. Even more of a misstep would be to actually draw attention to that, right?
Failure and fear hold a tremendous power over the food and beverage industry and, really, over everyone. Fear of failure is the thing that stops us from truly taking a chance or questioning the quotidian tasks that may be required to get the job done, but maybe not as efficiently as they could.
In his book “Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives,” author Tim Harford talks about economists studying the events of a past London worker strike, which shuttered underground stations for a few days. Many people in London take the Tube, so even this rather short shutdown caused a major disruption.
Other public transportation methods, such as buses, were available, so commuters who took the same route to work for years were forced to find other ways. The fascinating part is that a good amount of these people, about 5 percent, actually stayed with the new route they found after the worker strike concluded. That’s one in 20 people who found a new way of doing something they had been doing for years.
When disorder and confusion come into play, it’s terribly frustrating. But sometimes, it’s actually helpful, because it forces change. At that point, fear no longer holds its power over us because we have no other choice.
Recently, I had a chance to interview Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim. On the company’s website is something called “The Flavor Graveyard,” which is a list of the retired flavors no longer in production. I asked him why the company chooses to publicize these concepts that fell a little flat. He responded in a surprising way—it’s a way to celebrate failure. It’s an honest acknowledgment that they don’t get it right every single time, and by saying that, Solheim says they gain the freedom to keep trying.
No one enjoys the experience of failure. But if there is constant fear and aversion to not completely hitting an idea out of the park, how many great concepts will never see the light of day? Consumer tastes seem to be extremely fickle at this moment in time, but one thing that seems to be standing pat is the demand for more food and beverages. So, with such a receptive audience to new products, it does seem that, to paraphrase President Franklin D. Roosevelt, all we have to fear is fear itself.