Learning from failure and embracing it – digital disruption lessons

I was invited to an very interesting event last night at the Ivy Club in London.

Billed as the “Digital Bar Room Brawl” it was designed as an event to talk about the failure of high street companies to embrace digital, and it provoked some lively debate.

What we did not end up with though (nor were we ever going to) is a definitive answer as to why digital disruption is killing the high street.

I’ve blogged about this recently, and the issue stays the same.

A clue that digital is not entirely embedded everywhere was when I arrived at the event.

I was greeted by a man with a clipboard!!


Seriously?? Ever heard of Eventbrite and their iPad entry manager app ….but I digress.

I had my 2 minutes on the soapbox (yes there was a real soap box to stand on), and I once again mentioned the lovely Molly Flatt (@mollyflatt) who was born in 1983 – the year I started online with bulletin boards and dial-up modems.

After the formal part of the evening, Molly and I had a brief chat and both remarked about how we never really learn from the mistakes of failed companies.

I am sure that behind the failure of Jessops and HMV, while we all shake our heads and say “why did they not see digital disruption coming”, there is another story or boardroom and c-level battles that contributed to their demise.

Take any “digital” conference these days (and the event last night was actually a promotion for the Digital Marketing Show to be held in London 26-28th November at Excel), and we will all talk about the things we should be doing, or the campaigns that have been super successful.

We don’t however celebrate, or learn from our failures.

What Molly and I would like to see would be a “digital failures” conference, perhaps called #failbetter.

Why not ask along the ex-marketing manager (or CEO) of Jessops and HMV and ask them exactly what went wrong?

I am sure we could fill the Albert hall with a 1 day conference where we talk about what WON’T work, and ways to avoid becoming another high street victim.

Perhaps those involved in high street failures would not want to attend, perhaps we would have to disguise their voice and have them behind a screen – but we should not keep seeing high street companies being killed by digital disruption, we should instead embrace and learn from these failures and create better, more digitally sustainable ones.

What do you think? Would you attend such a conference?

Please leave a comment below or tweet me @AndrewGrill

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Based in London, Andrew is an internationally renowned thought leader in the field of social business and social media networks. Andrew is Global Managing Partner, Social Consulting at IBM.

  • Amali de Alwis

    Hi Andrew, attending a failure conference would probably be one of those things that would terrify people to the point that they wouldn’t want to tell anyone they were attending (lest the investors get a whiff!), but would all turn up anyway!

    Partially to reassure ourselves that we’re all human (as even the who’s who have had failures, and always good to give the pedestal a kicking), but also because as you say, there is a lot to be said for learning from failure.

    It’s an old adage that you learn more from failure than success, and yet we readily shares our successes but not our failures. Of course it’s not an easy thing to share when things have gone wrong, but from my experience, those who share their failures are often seen as more secure, confident and experienced that their counterparts who always paint a rosy picture.

    I’m reminded of a VC I met once who said that he rarely invests in companies from entrepreneurs who succeeded first time. Not even ones who failed and succeeded the second time. But actually, he preferred to deal with those who succeeded on their third time – reason being then he knows that they have learnt from their experience (1st failure), but that they also have tenacity (2nd failure) – two key characteristic required to ride the rocky road of digital enterprise.

    So maybe I would attend your conference. I just might not tell anyone else I am though πŸ™‚

  • Amali – see you at the #failbetter conference! How many tickets should I put you down for?

  • Amali de Alwis

    None (pssst…I’ll mail you about something Totally unrelated later).

  • I’m all ears…

  • Amali de Alwis

    It might be to get tickets for a ‘friend’ I know πŸ˜‰

  • Steve Penfold

    Sounds really interesting. Failures always make fantastic stories and great lessons to learn from. As you say, it could be difficult to find ‘failed’retailers that are willing to present but perhaps there are some that have previously failed that are now making a success with a new venture having learnt from previous mistakes? To provide a balance it would also be good to add some success stories into the mix to provide content for strategies that have worked by inviting high street retailers that have actually made a success in the digital world – for example, Tesco? I suspect that the answer lies in having dedicated and well funded ‘innovation teams’ but that would be for them to answer!

    Anyway – look forward to seeing you there! πŸ™‚

  • Steve, I’ll see you in the front row!