What’s one thing that unifies the three panelists? It’s okay to fail sometimes. Indeed, if companies aren’t failing frequently, they’re probably not moving fast enough. Session contributors believe that failure is an inevitable byproduct of learning and experimentation, and that both are key to building innovative companies. As Adam Lashinsky, session moderator and Executive Editor for Fortune, said, “Embracing failure is part of the curriculum in Silicon Valley.”
Neelie Kroes agreed, and noted that what was true in Silicon Valley is certainly not true in much of the rest of the world. In her view, the European mindset was still to avoid failure at all costs. “We still have a culture that [thinks] failure is negative. But it should be seen as part of the learning curve. You need failure to be successful. We have to have a different mindset.”
A fear of failure makes existing companies hostages to disruption, rather than catalysts of it. “Disruption is going to happen one way or another,” Kroes said. Companies have a choice. Do they take control themselves and leverage that disruption so they can progress, or do they stick their head in the sand and allow themselves to be disrupted? Her advice to established companies? “Please, stay in the driver’s seat.”
Wikipedia Founder Wales agreed. “I’ve failed many times in my career, and if I never fail again, that probably means I’m not doing anything interesting.” His example calls to mind the race car driver Mario Andretti’s quote, “If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.”
“I’m absolutely certain. Purpose is driving profits. Profits don’t drive purpose.”
That mobilization requires companies to release the power of every individual employee, by defining “a new leadership model that is capable of managing the full power of human beings.” When building their businesses, Beck believes that many companies simply lose sight of the formidable power of an aligned and energized employee base. “A lot of incumbents in a lot of industries are building really efficient machines,” but without considering the role people have within that machine.
They focus on the processes, workflows, and strategic decisions of their business, but forget that the only way for the machine they have built to function at the level today’s business environment demands is with an engaged, aligned workforce. As Beck said, “Companies should manage their assets with brains and numbers, but people with leaders and hearts.”
In order to appeal to an employee’s heart, values-based leadership is critical. The way to drive engagement is to ensure purpose is at the heart of business. “I’m absolutely certain. Purpose is driving profits. Profits don’t drive purpose,”said Beck. Unfortunately, though, too many business leaders are focused on perfecting their efficient machines, and purpose is relegated to an afterthought.
As Beck sees it, at the core of any business strategy are three fundamental questions:
- What do we do?
- How do we do it?
- Why do we do it?
In his view, too many established business leaders “over-describe the how,” but give little thought to the “why.” Yet that “why” is the core factor in building an engaged, mobilized workforce. It functions as a north star for every employee. Without it, in such a rapidly changing world, how can you, “ask people to be agile, and navigate and be on their feet? It’s impossible,” said Beck.