Extreme Failure & Success in Innovation & Process Improvement

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

All organizations deal with successes and failures in the course of doing business. In this lesson, you'll see a few examples and learn strategies for navigating both the low periods of failure and the high times of success.

To The Extreme

Did you know that one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century was considered, by some, to be a failure? A late bloomer who didn't speak until the age of four, Albert Einstein struggled at test-taking, nearly quit his university education, and held a series of pedestrian jobs as he attempted to find his place in the world.

It wasn't until Einstein was in his 40s that he received his Nobel Prize and made many of his contributions to the disciplines of physics and mathematics that we recognize today.

Individuals aren't the only ones who struggle with failure and realize success along life's journey. Businesses often take a loss - or get credit - for extreme failures and successes as they innovate and seek to improve their processes. Let's take a closer look at some examples. See how many you've heard of before.

Failure and Success

Just as with individuals, businesses will experience both ''high'' highs and ''low'' lows, culminating in either failures or successes for brands big and small. Here are some mini-case studies of businesses that have seen both.

New Coke

When a failure at your business comes to be known as your company's ''New Coke,'' you know you had a disaster on your hands. The time was the mid-1980s and Coca-Cola was attempting to revitalize its brand. To do so, it created New Coke, which the company touted as having a ''smoother, sweeter taste.''

Even large corporations have experienced failures in innovating.
new, coke, coca cola, failure, success

What Coca-Cola did in its effort to gain ground on its competitor Pepsi, was to retire the old recipe in hopes that the new recipe would become a smashing success with consumers. Unfortunately, Coca-Cola didn't get the reception they anticipated.

Fans of the original Coke complained, staged protests, and gathered signatures on a petition for the company to return to its regular recipe. It took less than three months for Coca-Cola to get the message and return the original Coke to stores.


We often associate Apple with innovation success with its new ideas and devices, but even this tech giant is not immune to a product failure. The Newton, which Apple unveiled in the early 1990s, may have been a gadget ahead of its time. The company wanted to make a portable, palm-sized computer that consumers could put into their pocket and spent roughly $100 million developing it; they named the device the ''Newton.''

The problem with the Newton was that the device was the wrong size, both too small to be effective and too big to be easily portable. It lasted on the market for a few years before Apple pulled it from its product lineup. Of course, this failure was short-lived as Apple came out a few years later with what may be a better-conceived version of the Newton - the iPhone. And, the rest, as they say, is history.


Toyota believes so much in process improvement that the company has given it its own name: ''kaizen.'' At Toyota, kaizen is a philosophy its employees adopt that ensures productivity and quality are high and waste is low. They have succeeded in standardizing many workplace procedures, enabling employees to take ownership of problems and solve them immediately as they arise.

The idea of kaizen, adopted by Toyota from Japanese business, has helped make Toyota one of the most successful and lucrative automobile manufacturers in recent history.

Strategies for Handling Failure and Success

Whether you're experiencing a setback from a business failure or living on the sunny side of success, it's imperative that each be handled and managed appropriately. Here are some strategies for dealing with both extreme failures and successes.

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