business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Back in my college days I was given what I thought was unusual advice to improve my skills as a hockey player: take figure skating lessons. You can imagine how I first received that idea.

Weird as it seemed at the time, I gave it a try and my skating skills did improve dramatically. Of course, my ability to do a graceful one-footed 3-turn never helped when an opponent was slamming me into the boards, but I learned a wonderful lesson from the figure skating coach.

She said, “If you never fall, you aren’t trying anything new.” Trust me, I fell a lot and, despite myself, I learned.

That lesson came back to me last week as I read The Innovation Conversation, Kevin’s regular feature with former Amazon executive Tom Furphy. When Kevin raised Amazon’s decision to pull back on its Fresh program in specific markets, Tom gave an incredibly insightful answer.

“Amazon has never been afraid to end or alter experiments that aren’t working.” Or as the skating coach would say, you’ve got to fall in order to grow.

I know there are countless MNB readers who wonder why we talk about Amazon so much, but the answer is simple. The companies worth discussing are those who are pushing the envelope. That’s why we talk about Amazon’s experiments, successful or not.

No one knows whether Amazon Go or Fresh will be the next great thing or just a strange little idea. But the one thing Amazon never seems to do is try to skate by on reputation or past ideas.

Likewise, no one knows whether Walmart’s plans to experiment with Tesla’s electric trucks matter. No one can know for sure if the trucks will even work as they haven’t been built yet and Tesla itself is having problems with all of its gambles.

But here’s the thing: if those trucks do work they could vastly impact shipping costs for Walmart, which would translate into massive cost savings and all the competitive power that could bring. Likewise if Amazon Go (among other Amazon experiments) succeeds, it could change the entire checkout process and radically impact competition of all kinds.

So once again, you need to risk failing or falling to get better.

Obviously, Walmart and Amazon both have advantages other companies cannot even imagine. Both are so large and have access to resources - financial and otherwise - that most simply don’t. And certainly in Amazon’s case, the financial markets seem exceptionally willing to accept failed experiments that might tank the stocks of other publicly traded companies.

But for a second time, read (and pass along) Furphy’s quote: “Amazon has never been afraid to end or alter experiments that aren’t working.”

It reminds us to keep trying new things and, as importantly, to recognize that when those new ideas aren’t working, stop the experiment, admit failure and move on to something else. That way we minimize the mistake.

As Paul Simon sang in “Learn how to Fall:”

Oh and it’s the same old story.
Ever since the world began.
Everybody got the runs for glory.
Nobody stop and scrutinize the plan.

Or as my teacher would have said: “Back on your skates!”

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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