Maybe failure should be an option

In  looking at the recent disappointing ABC circulation reports, and the subsequent first quarter ad revenues, I’m left with scratching my head as to why, after 4 years, the newspaper industry still hasn’t found new and exciting ways to regain readers and advertisers.

It’s especially frustrating when the industry has been handed a fantastic new platform from which to do new and exciting products — the Apple iPad — and the industry responds for the most part with the same old same old.

At a time when Steve Job is disappointed with what the New York Times has done with its iPad app, you have to wonder why the industry hasn’t spent more time developing new, innovative things that will attract new readers and revenues.

Could it be they’re too afraid to take a risk for fear of falling off the edge? It would seem to be the only logical answer. The newspaper industry has had a rich history of being risk-adverse and, with few exceptions, tends to wait for someone else to find success before they enter into the fray.

The culture of  making financial ends meet while doing more with fewer resources has created a corporate climate that accepts “just getting by.”  Innovation is whatever meets the immediate need, or grabbing the low-lying fruit. But, as we’ve seen, those efforts have not offered any return. Forward thinking and looking beyond the low branches is discouraged in order to meet the demands of now.

As a result, any possibility of failure is enough to quash a good idea. But the opposite has historically held true … that from failure comes great innovation. The best innovations did not come about on the first try. For every patent Thomas Edison created, he had hundreds of failures. Editorial management consultant Edward Miller recently quotes a Fortune 500 CEO saying: “We become uncompetitive by not being tolerant of mistakes.  The moment you let avoiding failure become your motivator, you’re down the path of inactivity.  You can stumble only if you’re moving.”

The industry needs to shake off its fear of failure and start taking steps. Listen to your customers. Look at innovation. Miller even suggests creating “experimental teams.” Take steps, stumble on occasion. But at least get moving.

Maybe it’ll make Steve Jobs happy.


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