A little known fact about Kenway Consulting is the genesis of our name. When I lived in London, England between 1992 and 1993, my street address was 75 Kenway Road. It was a very short, non-descript street in the South Kensington / Earl’s Court section of London. One of the added benefits of 75 Kenway Road was that the local pub was called The King’s Head. With my namesake on a pub sign down the street from an available flat, I thought I was destined to live there. And so I did.
In 2004, when Kenway Consulting was being created, but before a name for the company had been selected, a choice had to be made. I did not want the company to be named after me or to even have my name incorporated. While I wanted some level of personal touch, I also felt it was critical to keep the name generic so that others would want to come hang their shingle with me. I looked back to my time on Kenway Road and the pints raised at the King’s Head Pub, and thought, “Kenway Consulting it is.” And so it was.
But this article is neither about Kenway’s history, nor is it about my personal history. Rather, it’s about failing, and more importantly, failing fast. Shortly after my time in London, I thought I would write a novel, a pseudo-auto-biographical memoir-type novel that I titled Stirring Cappuccino. I thought it was a brilliant double entendre. Sure, you could conjure up the image of someone stirring their cappuccino. But perhaps I had a STIRRING cappuccino, an event unlike any other trip to a coffee house, where something amazing happened. As I type this, I still think it’s a great name. And maybe someday, someone reading this will complete my novel for me. Better yet, maybe someday, someone reading this will start my novel for me. You see, within about two days of starting my literary magnum opus, I realized that my story was a big nothing. The title, to this day, sounds great. But the execution? Not so much.
Thankfully, I didn’t spend too much time on it. I failed fast. And I am grateful that I saw that failure was inevitable, and so I cut bait. But in business, how often do you see organizations stick with a bad idea or an idea that will likely not fulfill its initial objectives for too long, just because they started down the path?
As many organizations know, not everything is a quick hit project. Some things take a long time to mature and for their value to come to fruition. In Kenway’s newsletters and blogs over the years, you have seen numerous articles with numerous suggestions on how to ensure that these sizable projects embark on a successful path and stay on it. What has remained largely uncovered, to date, is the art of recognizing failure and knowing when to make the hard decision to shut it down and move on to the next thing.
By its simplest description, shutting down a project ought to be considered as analogous to starting one. The same Return on Investment (ROI) discussion that is part of the decision to start a project is equally as valuable when considering shutting one down. What is the value of continuing? What is the cost? Is there a newly revealed alternative that is more cost-effective than continuing down the path we’ve started? Have we learned about new costs that weren’t previously understood, and do those offset the ROI we once believed existed? Are there new products, new solutions, etc. that outperform the prior choice we made? If so, can we implement them in a more cost-effective way than finishing our in-flight implementation?
Sometimes, fear overcomes us. A decision to end something before it comes to completion can be seen as failure, and many people fear the perceptions that might result. By my definition, failing fast when that is the right thing to do is actually a success. Continuing with a failing initiative for fear of failure can be a much more significant failure than a fast one.
Next time you are mulling over your project that’s coming off the rails and stressing about how to get it back on track, give some consideration to the option of failing fast, perhaps over a cup of coffee, or a good book, Stirring Cappuccino perhaps.