On Failure and Success in the Age of Information: R-SWIM
Sadly, most human enterprises fail.
Per Forbes Magazine 8 out of 10 businesses fail. Per Harvard Business School study 75% of venture-backed startups fail. Only 50% of businesses will survive 5 years and only 30% will survive their 10th year. Per Fortune Magazine, nine out of ten organizations fail to implement their strategic plan. Over 90% of technology start-up companies fail.
Many organizational and economic reasons could explain this phenomenon, such as lack of correlation between strategy and budget, lack of employee engagement,
lack of awareness as to the importance of long term planning and even lack of basic understanding of the organization’s strategy.
But the main reason for frequent failure is simple: it is human nature itself.
One of our distinguishing characteristics is reflexivity: humans tend to identify a need, or a problem, promptly conceive a solution and then immediately set out to implement it.
An over-emphasis on implementation and execution usually serves as a recipe for a failure.
Human are reflexive and not necessarily rational. The notion that humans are rational in their economic behavior, political participation, health or education was scientifically challenged by some of the world’s leading economists, psychologists and sociologists. An abundance of empirical evidence was collected indicating that humans are not necessarily aware when they are being rational and cannot decide to use reason at will.
Many believe that failure is an inevitable step on the way to success. In recent years, a new social phenomenon has risen: the celebration and even glorification of failure. I was recently asked to address a crowd of 500 technology enthusiasts in Jerusalem about “my biggest failure”. The event was part of a series appropriately titled: “f**k-up nights”.
In the age of information overload and hyper-connectivity, making sense of one’s “situational picture”, becomes a challenge.
There is a rather simple solution that could help one minimize the risk of falling into the “spiral of overwhelm”. It is well-known that chronic overwhelm leads to anxiety. Overwhelmed people tend to make mistakes due to the toll it takes on their cognitive, nervous and even hormonal systems.
The solution involves one major principle: the postponement of the urge for immediate gratification. Rather than rushing to implement a solution, the idea is to train oneself to implement a well-structured step-by-step path, one that could minimize the risk of failure.
This path involves five necessary steps; all represent a basic and simple structure that is meant to make sense of informational chaos:
First, is research. This is the most fundamental step. Research is the process that allows the enterprise to accurately assess its value proposition before committing any resources, identify and map the turf, gather, analyze and interpret all relevant information about the market, target audience and the feasibility of the proposed idea.
Second, is strategy. It is about conceiving an over-arching principle which will guide the process. Effective strategy combines all goals into one comprehensive story-line, idea or plan. It is the lens through which every action is viewed and analyzed. The strategy must inform every aspect of the plan and serve as a constant compass.
Third, is work plan. This is the conversion of the strategy into an actionable, affordable and doable set of actions. The work plan must reflect the strategy chosen and be informed by it, at every stage. It serves as an outline of goals and objectives. Work plans help stay on course by detailing achievable tasks. It includes the definitions of a series of major actions, projects and efforts to support the overall strategy, as well as conceptual, verbal, textual and visual articulation.
Fourth, is implementation. This is the process that converts strategy and work plan into set of actions to achieve planned goals. If all previous steps were done in order then implementation should be the easiest part in the process.
Fifth, is measurement. Usually, the last step requires further research. The idea here is to measure the output in terms of effectiveness. Operational metrics could measure the effectiveness of all components of the implemented work plan
The implementation of these five steps (R-SWIM, if you will) could minimizes risk and dramatically increases chances for success and growth. The R-SWIM system (http://www.r-swim.com/) is meant to help develop a strong actionable strategy by making sure all aspects were thoroughly researched; the “known’s”, “unknown’s” and the “unknown’s unknown’s”.
Ido Aharoni is a Global Distinguished Professor at New York University, Member of the International Advisory Council of APCO Worldwide and the Chairman for the Charney Forum for New Diplomacy.