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Build Better (and Faster) Through Failure

Life is full of ironies, and one of them is that serious growth is impossible without failure. Especially if that growth is to be relatively swift. Let’s be real: every business lives with some form of failure every day. And I’m here to tell you that’s absolutely okay.

In fact, you should relish it.

Why? Compelling research suggests a 15% failure rate is optimal for growth.


“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald 


At Ninety, we’re in the midst of serious growth. As I think back to our earlier days, I’m more convinced than ever of the following truths:

  • You can’t build a decent company if you’re obsessed with perfection.
  • You can’t build a decent company if you have zero tolerance for failure.
  • You especially can’t build a decent software company if your Ideal Customers expect a perfect product and perfect service. 

A graphic depicting the cyclical nature of growth ascending four levels: novice, apprentice, journeyman, and expert.

The Mirage of Perfection

Aiming to provide perfection is highly inadvisable, and seeking to do so will keep you from ever delivering value (especially if you’re a software company writing that first line of code).

The consequence is that all reasonably well-run and growing companies learn how to be at peace with failure and gauge the trade-offs between perfection, expectations, and what we call Getting Smart Stuff Done.

I can say this with full confidence: our peace with failure has enabled us to grow faster — and get better faster.

Of course, none of us can maintain trust if we fail often. That said, high-trust companies enjoy great relationships with Ideal Stakeholders who are willing to accept a little imperfection while we strive to provide a better and better product, service, and value.

Our Imperfect Journey

Like most organizations with big aspirations, we deeply believe our Ninety platform is making life better by helping small and midsize organizations become extraordinarily productive, humane, and resilient places of work where team members are focused, aligned, and thriving.

Our commitment to a relatively small collection of explicit, coherent, and resonant Focus Filters (what we do, who we serve, why we serve, how we serve, where we are going, and our plans for getting from here to there) makes it almost easy for us to attract and retain like-minded, growth-oriented Ideal Stakeholders. Ideal Stakeholders who will forgive our occasional failures. 

Are your Focus Filters crystal clear? Are they collectively coherent (your words align with your actions)? And, just as importantly, are you surrounded by growth-oriented Ideal Stakeholders who are rooting for the imperfect you? 

I hope the answer is yes, and if so, I’m sure you’ll soon find out just how valuable your failures are in propelling you further (and faster) toward building a great company.

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