We Tried That Before

If something failed once in the past, should it be doomed forever?

Let’s face it, almost nothing that happens in the future is new; it’s almost always something that has been tried and failed in the past. In 2007, the technical magazine Computerworld proclaimed that e-books were destined for failure. In 2008, TechFlash declared the tablet PC a flop and chided Bill Gates for his 2001 comment that within five years the tablet PC was going to be the “most popular form of PC in America.” Gates was a bit off in his timing and his product, but in 2010 along came the iPad with its million units sold in the first month alone.


We humans have this tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater when something fails.

But the reality is that the success of any new idea — be it a product, a promotional idea, a sales tactic or a service style – is dependent on many different variables. Execution matters a lot. But we’re also dependent on many other situational contexts in the idea’s environment, like timing, audience/customers, the economy, and the general randomness of life. Even slight tweaks to any of those variables can be the difference between success and failure.

Einstein once said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

So rather than slipping into insanity, when an idea comes up that’s tried and failed, before proclaiming, “we tried that before” ask yourself 4 questions:

~Who was "we"?  Bad grammar aside, it's an important question. Were "we" empowered to succeed? Did "we" have adequate resources? At one time, some people in the organization believed in this idea. Consider if with additional knowledge and new circumstances, the idea can succeed this time.

~How hard did they "try"? For how long? Compare current and past situations to see if it is time for another try.

~Is that truly "that"? True, something about the idea sounds familiar – but probably not identical. Find similarities and differences. Are there new twists in the idea? Take advantage of past learning to strengthen your approach.

~When as "before”? Under what circumstances? Determine if conditions have changed, possibly offering an entirely new arena for the idea. If conditions haven't changed and may hinder your idea's success, look for ways to change or adapt to them.

Once you’ve broken the failure of the idea down into its component parts, you’ll have a better sense of whether or not the idea itself was at fault. You’ll have a much better understanding of the problems you would face if you tried it again, and that better understanding will give you a better platform from which to base your next attempt if you so desire.

We’ve all heard the stories of Thomas Edison’s thousands of failures before he finally got the incandescent light bulb right. Would we all be in the dark today if he didn't try again?

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