Failure Is Indeed an Option if We’re Trying New Things


If we're trying new things, there are bound to be “failures.”

If our leaders want guaranteed success, we won't be trying many new things. The best way to guarantee that we won't fail is to not try.

A Domino's Pizza commercial seems to embrace this notion that we're going to fail sometimes and we have to be comfortable with that to be an innovative organization.

From the commercial:

“We know not everything is going to work… In order to get better, in order to move ahead, you're going to make mistakes. If we gave up after every mistake, we wouldn't come up with something new… We cannot be afraid to fail. It might sound crazy, but that's who we are.”

On one level, that's good PDSA, Kaizen, and Innovation thinking. “Failures” should be considered learning opportunities.

We have to take risks. But, they shouldn't be wild risks. We need to:

  1. Plan
  2. Do
  3. Study
  4. Adjust

We shouldn't just randomly do stuff. We have to identify a problem or a market need. We need to test our solution or creation. Then, if we're fairly certain (but not necessarily 100% certain) that our idea will work fine to address that problem or need, then let's go forward (Do), then Study and Adjust.

I'm sure that a company like Domino's must have some form of an iterative product development process. I'm sure it starts with a test kitchen along with consumer feedback. Did customers SAY they wanted fried boneless chunks of chicken with cheese and sauce? What market need is not being met by chicken wings?

I'm also guessing that Domino's has the ability to do small tests of change. They must have test markets, where they see 1) can their locations consistently produce this product and 2) how do customers respond?

They should have a pretty good sense, based on the early iterations if they have a product that's going to succeed or fail. If you're going to fail, fail EARLY. That's a great lesson from the Lean Startup approach. You can also fail locally and somewhat privately. By the time Domino's does a national ad campaign, I'd like to think they would be pretty confident of success.

So, I don't understand how saying “we have to fail” really helps sell chicken or pizza. It seems like the commercial is too clever by half, perhaps.

Putting my foodie hat on for a second, that innovative chicken product just looks gross (and the reviews aren't positive). It looks like they putting pizza toppings, including chicken and cheese, on top of brown paper instead of pizza dough. The paper might taste the same as their dough.

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 4.20.22 PM

I'm not willing to spend my own money to see if this tastes and nasty as it looks. I'm not really willing to hold up Domino's as a bastion of innovation and Kaizen. I guess they get points for trying.

This is a company that had an ad campaign that said, basically, “we know our pizza is terrible, but it's going to be better now.” The last time I tried their pizza (it was served at some tech event and I was starving), I thought it was nasty pizza with a crust that tasted like chemicals. They aren't exactly experimenting on a track record of culinary success (but they have been a successful business, which I guess is what matters).

Have you been able to apply Domino's words about innovation to your organization? If so, how? Have you been able to reduce the fear of failure as a way to foster Kaizen and innovation?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I haven’t spent a nickel at Domino’s in 15 years for some of the same reasons you mentioned. They must be meeting somebody’s requirements or they wouldn’t be in business.

    Similarly, the only thing I’ve bought at McDonald’s in the last year is a sundae and chocolate cookies a couple of times.

    They must know their customers better than we do.

    When the managers of these places (I think you could go all the way the “food chain” to the fancier sit-down chain restaurants) generally have much more of a laser focus than the typical manager in healthcare.

    • Domino’s has customers to the tune of almost $2 Billion a year.

      They aren’t trying to win culinary awards. They are providing cheap, consistent food to people. They have to know their customers.

      There are plenty of badly managed restaurants and bars, if you believe what you see on TV shows like Kitchen Nightmares and Bar Rescues… people not knowing the basics of running a kitchen in a way that won’t make customers sick. There are plenty of bad managers in those industries and in healthcare…

  2. Typically the only ones organizations who can fail and be rewarded is top management. Franchises try to reduce variation with strict rules and standard work. But ultimately it come down to the people … it always does. Little Caesars is an interesting model …$5.00 pizza hot and ready immediately. I’m not a picky eater so it works for me plus I enjoy watching kanban at work …Pep in … Pep out …. they haven’t failed me ….yet…

  3. Hey Mark,
    Amazingly great post.Thanks for sharing such innovative stuff for us. Everyone has to do small tests of change like Domino’s because it’s better to fail and learn by inspiring by the mistakes that you’ve done previously.


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