I was speaking with a business leader recently who blurted out this expression … innovation is a funnel. And it dawned on me that many product management leaders fail to recognize failure as a stepping stone. There is a reason for that, of course, as many product management professionals tend to lean towards ‘High D’ on the DISC profile … meaning we are ambitious, competitive, driven. Once we agree to own a product, it becomes our baby and we will do just about anything to see it succeed. The challenge is that all products don’t succeed.

No one likes to fail because it generally means pain, loss, and in some cases even humiliation. And as the image from Tom Fishburne alludes to, come out of it feeling a bit “chewed up”. Whether the product failed because the market didn’t need/wasn’t ready for the idea, or because of internal company politics, or a number of other reasons, it’s time to try something new. 

I recall a product I managed that, try as I might, I could not prevent its demise. But what I learned a long time ago from watching Steve Jobs is that failure is a good and necessary thing because it forces us to re-examine our approach, our leadership style, and even our motives. And sometimes out of failure some of the greatest successes are realized because of what we have learned along the way. Here are two ideas that Steve Jobs succeeded with coming off of failures:

1. After being unceremoniously ousted from Apple by business leaders, Steve Jobs purchased a company from George Lucas that went on to revolutionize the animation business. That company was Pixar.
2. Just shortly after returning to Apple, Steve Jobs leveraged an idea from the Napster folks and expanded upon it giving birth to what became iTunes.

Failure in business is not necessarily our enemy, and we should not allow failures to define us. Keep the ideas flowing and try something new. After all, when you look at the Ideation stage of the Product Management Lifecycle, it should be fed with many ideas … because after all … Innovation is a Funnel, not a Pipe!