In a previous post I mentioned the role of failure in innovation. As we explore the importance of failure in this Innovation course, it’s becoming increasingly clear how fear can hold you back or stand in the way of potential opportunities, both professionally and personally.
I recently read an article that I found to be an inspiring reminder of the power of failure. It’s the story of Gatorade’s “01 Prime”, a drink pouch that was marketed as a powerful pre-workout carbohydrate boost for athletes.
The idea for 01 Prime is a cool innovation story in itself. Gatorade observed that many young football players pack bananas in their sports bags as a light and healthy snack before practice, but faced the problem that their cleats would mash the fruit in the bag before they had the chance to eat it. The product development team at Gatorade sought to make a solution to this problem, and the result was 01 Prime. Gatorade launched the pouch and established a new product category in the sports drink market. However, there were inherent problems with the packaging design; the pouches were prone to leaking, which defeated their purpose of a cleaner alternative to smashed bananas. Gatorade faced negative consumer attitudes and reviews about 01 Prime, and a fallout ensued.
But! That’s not the end of the story, it’s actually where it starts to get good. Gatorade’s president, Sarah Robb O’Hagan, personally focused on managing the fallout, and reframed the failure of the product as a company lesson. She emphasized the importance of trial and error. Here’s what she had to say about it:
“We could have waited another six months to ‘get it right,’ but we would have missed both the summer season and a great learning opportunity. In fact, the leaky pouches caused everyone to revisit their assumptions about the packaging, which led to an even better ergonomic design and superior packaging materials.”
The lessons learned from 01 Prime ultimately became the foundation for the re-invented G Series product line that was hugely successful. So it turns out that Gatorade’s “failure” ultimately pushed them to create a better product. I admire O’Hagan for how she took the shame out of failure, and instead commended her team for revisiting their approach to packaging and design.
No one likes to fail. Especially not MBA graduate students. We usually do not even see failure as an option, and we’ve trained ourselves to avoid failure at all costs. But this mindset stands in the way of achieving truly innovative thinking. We need to un-learn our approach to failure and give ourselves the opportunity to take risks, because innovation does not exist without risk.
The key is in learning from the failures, having the fearlessness to move on, and bringing the experiences you’ve learned back to the drawing board.