Capitalizing on Failure

Power of Haas Ideas

Capitalizing on Failure

The other “F” word: new faculty book shows how to channel failure into innovation

Most would agree with the old adage to learn from your mistakes—but how? In their new book, The Other “F” Word: How Smart Leaders, Teams, and Entrepreneurs Put Failure to Work (Wiley, March 2015), Berkeley Haas Lecturers John Danner and Mark Coopersmith, MBA 86, offer a framework for transforming failure into increased innovation, improved employee engagement, and accelerated company growth.

The book also includes interviews with some 60 high-level executives and entrepreneurs—from such organizations as Google, DuPont, and UCSF Medical Center—who share their own experiences with failure.

“Every organization or leader experiences failure. It is the biggest, most valuable yet untapped resource to success,” explains Danner.

Danner and Coopersmith, both senior fellows in Berkeley Haas’ Lester Center for Entrepreneurship, teach a pioneering MBA course by the same name and became interested in failure as a book topic when talking to groups of MBA alumni during a lecture tour.

“After our talks, people came to us and asked how they could start a conversation about this taboo topic in their organizations,” says Coopersmith. “That’s the goal of our book: to kick-start those conversations about the ‘other “F” word.’ It is not an academic textbook but rather a pragmatic guide to exploring the frontier of failure and improving performance.”

The book, aimed at an organization’s leadership as well as its team members, offers practical advice structured around their seven-stage Failure Value Cycle:

  • Respect and anticipate failure in order to reduce the fear of failure.
  • Rehearse to improve your reflexes when failure happens.
  • Recognize failure’s signals earlier to buy time.
  • React quickly to minimize damage.
  • Reflect to draw insights.
  • Rebound to put new action plans into play to improve performance.
  • Remember to strengthen workplace culture.

“Think of failure like gravity,” says Danner, “It’s a pervasive fact of life that you can’t ignore but can leverage to reach new heights.”

The book also features insights from well-known individuals. A former governor; an astronaut; Dilbert cartoonist and Berkeley Haas alumnus Scott Adams, MBA 86; startup guru Guy Kawasaki; and many others recount how they turned mistakes into strategic opportunities.

Take, for example, Mark Hoplamazian, the president and CEO of Hyatt Hotels Corporation. Hoplamazian, the authors explain, improved room turnaround time by 30 percent in one of the hotel’s London properties after recognizing that a siloed service approach was costly, inefficient, and, in effect, failing. Instead of having multiple departments (maid service, engineering, catering, etc.) follow one another to accomplish a task, he integrated the various tasks into a one-team model where each team member works simultaneously.

The Other “F” Word also features a foreword by Time Warner Chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes and an afterword by China Gorman, CEO of Great Place to Work. —Pamela Tom

[Back to top]