Make it safe to fail, not failsafe.


Published 21st April 23

By Hetti Barkworth-Nanton, CEO, Ploughshare

This week we all witnessed an explosive failure.

But not in the same way that we are used to seeing it. We saw a failure that was celebrated by those who worked on it, acknowledged by a business leader as something that happens and is an opportunity, and celebrated by the presence of sheer enthusiasm surrounding it.

I’m, of course, talking about the launch of the largest and most powerful rocket ever produced, by SpaceX.

This type of experiment is absolutely what is needed in the technology and innovation industry. The entire process is a risk, and a large one at that. What I found most admirable about this risk, was that everyone was in it together, and that the enthusiasm for experimentation and risk taking was palpable. The whole event was a masterclass in controlling an event, managing an experiment, and showing to the world that actually; failing is not as bad as you would think.

When it comes to innovation, and the UK’s innovation ecosystem I feel that we could all learn a valuable lesson from our cousins across the pond.

What we saw was a created and controlled environment where failure and risk taking isn’t just accepted as a part of everyday life, but rather an environment where failure and risk taking is encouraged, and celebrated. From the outset, the idea was that if this rocket got past the launch tower, it was a success. That was how success and failure were defined from the outset – and we saw success despite a fairly hefty explosion. We saw no fists on the tables in SpaceX’s Mission Command, we saw no heads in hands. We saw smiles, and the quiet knowledge that the sheer amount of data gathered will be crucial for the future. We saw that simply experimenting and taking risks to innovate is considered a success in and of itself.

If you don’t fail, you don’t learn, and for the entire team that worked on this launch, the learnings that will be garnered from this event will be phenomenal – I have no doubt. The creation of this safe to fail environment is incredible, and one that I can only hope makes its way across to us at some point.