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Failure Under the Microscope: Fail Forward

Failure Under the Microscope: Fail Forward


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When Sarah Hebert founded Curious Pixel in 2005, it was a creative marketing and branding business. In 2010, the company expanded to include media buying and search engine optimization (SEO) services. But the extra workload became too much to handle.

“I was successful and had great client relationships, and then that made me think I could do even more,” Hebert recalled. “I just bit off more than I could chew.”

Hebert didn’t lose the business. Her husband now operates Curious Pixel, and she continues in a consulting role, while working full time at Sprint as manager of internal digital communications.

But in 2013—after having to lay off several employees—Hebert decided that Curious Pixel needed to regain its creative focus by “being brand storytellers, and doing that through video and digital storytelling only,” she said. “Rather than trying to go all out to being everything to everyone, we just wanted to niche even further to what we were passionate about.”

A lot of people in the business world might call that a “pivot,” but not Hebert, who prefers the term “fail forward.”

“It’s a failure to the people that I had employed, but it’s a fail forward for the business to be better focused,” she said. “People don’t talk about failure enough, and it’s a dirty word and it shouldn’t be. They use a word like ‘pivot,’ but maybe what made them pivot was a failure, and they’re not OK with saying that.”

Hebert believers it’s the fear of not being good enough that reinforces the fear of failure.

“People hold onto the idea of perfection as a goal, when it shouldn’t be a goal,” she said. “We should actually be OK with our imperfect human selves. And being an imperfect human is also being an imperfect human business owner and understanding what that means. It doesn’t mean you won’t strive to be better at what you do.

“Whether it’s in your friendship relationships, your significant other relationships or your relationships with your work, accepting that things might not always go as planned and then learning what you can from it is always the better strategy than saying ‘I’m great’ from the get-go. That way, failure isn’t scary anymore. Failure becomes a trajectory forward, rather than the end of a career.”

Brian McTavish

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Brian McTavish is the senior writer at Thinking Bigger Business Media.

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