Failure is the basic prerequisite for innovation, says Moritz Marder, Chief Home Officer of Rakete aus Knete. The road to an innovation’s shining story is often rocky. According to Marder, many companies lack the willingness to fail. A look at the keynote speech he gave at the German Innovation Awards 2022.
By Moritz Marder
I learned that for some, the decision to use this title is tantamount to admitting complete economic ineptitude after my presentation with precisely this title at the German Innovation Awards 2022, presented by the German Design Council at the Futurium in Berlin: “Frankly, it was quite out of touch with reality”, one of the participants said, when I spoke so “candidly” about how “cool” it would be to fail “casually” and then “simply” try something new. “Some people absolutely cannot afford to fail!”
Keynote by Moritz Marder at the awards ceremony of the German Innovation Awards 2022
I’m always happy when communication triggers something… Yes, failure is not cool or even desirable. Yes, you have to be able to afford to fail – financially, in terms of your life and emotionally. Why it is nevertheless important to me to address failure as a normal and necessary dimension is because, on the one hand, I don’t read enough about it in all the top performer LinkedIn posts and, on the other hand, because I find it so obvious: it is a core skill of successful entrepreneurship to give new things a chance, to recognise and admit failure in good time and then to change the focus with energy and gratitude for what has been learned. The alternative to a willingness to fail can only be mediocrity on well-trodden paths or expensive adherence to decisions that unfortunately do not lead to success. For those who still need final conviction, here is an ancient country saying from my homeland: “When your horse is dead, you have two options. Get off. Or make yourself as comfortable as possible, because the ride will be long.” (Source: possibly fictitious)
Somehow, failure is perhaps the trend after all. Elon torches one rocket after the other until he launches the billion-dollar company. On Fuck-Up Night, the sesonised partners (sadly, none of them feminine) rave about the old days when media budgets smoked down the chimney without any measurable needle rash. But I’m not talking about “Burn money, to earn money!” nor “Failure is part of growing up”. Failure is part of everyday professional life and should not only be understood as okay for leadership, but as incrementally relevant for progress. Perhaps even the number of failed attempts on the path of development is much more suitable as a project KPI of the often attempted definition of “productivity” than the number of emails and Excel spreadsheets created.
Let’s catch three examples from my failure archive to get you warmed up: a stool developed ready for serial production according to the stand-up mistress principle as an ergonomic seating alternative to the desk chair. A children’s book with a female heroine who makes her dreams come true through her curiosity and fascination for nature. A lightweight e-downhill vehicle with the seating and steering freedom of a paragliding parachute. With the stool, I was so fascinated and driven by the organisation of the manufacturing process that I ignored critical voices about the seat quality, which then belatedly broke the neck of our sales department at market launch. The downhill vehicle was my darling developed in sketches and CAD down to the smallest detail, which I should have built much earlier as a 1:1 model in order to get more relevant feedback than from my patient Kiel doll in the 3D model. The children’s book, for all its devotion to my readership, especially my offspring, simply lacked the USP.
- Test as early as possible and listen honestly.
- Think and build 1:1.
- Make all decisions with the aim of creating a USP.
I like to translate “USP” with a weary wink for all business connoisseurs as “USer exPerience”, because the only “Unique Selling Proposition” I know is some form of improved user experience with the product over that of the competition. It is most difficult to do this with a mass-market and trendy product – like the cosmetic sheet mask. The reward is that market introduction and distribution channels are many times easier to build than for a less established product. Our product was called Instant Holiday and offered a 20-minute, multi-sensory journey with a bathtub departure point in a combination of cloth mask, bath crystals and atmospheric sounds via QR code. We failed first because of the procurement, then because of the costs.
Our first China-based supplier was super-fast, flexible and seemed to be able to source everything. We got cold feet when required dermatological certificates contained spelling mistakes and Photoshop artefacts. The German company we found was highly professional and just as fast. Only six times as expensive. After a round of partnering with travel companies, campaigning on relevant crowdfunding portals, etc., and a sobering response, we finally abandoned the investment and dissolved the foundation.
- Production triangle classics: “Good, fast & cheap” never come in threes.
- “Fast and good” as well as “fast and cheap” are de facto expensive. One at the beginning, the other on the way to market launch, product liability etc.
My last failed project example started as a DIY product for colour gradients with wall paint. Using a self-adhesive, die-cut stencil in sheets, the application of which eliminates the need for additional masking, you paint a dotting grid on the wall that gets smaller and smaller and that, after peeling off the stencil, produces the perfect gradient. This time I did a lot right: early tests with end customers went really well. 1:1 prototypes were easy to process. In a large-scale test with a partner company, professional painters processed the prototypes in different materials and gave them a scathing review. The preparation effort is similar to wallpapering. The delicate stencil always leads to stray dots somewhere and the effect is more of a dot grid than a gradient. The positive thing about this example is that the whole process from idea to failure took less than three months because I went through all the gates conscientiously.
We sum up:
- Failure can be learned, accelerated and makes products strong.
- The fastest way to robust decisions is broad-based, carefully evaluated feedback.
- The fastest way to substantial feedback is prototypes – no matter how simple.
One feedback to my lecture described at the beginning remains in my ear to this day, namely: “Super, Moritz. If companies are ever looking for someone to fail, they now know who to call.” You’re welcome to do that. Then I’ll be happy to tell you about the projects that didn’t fail.
Moritz Marder is a strategic brand and product designer who supports companies in brand development and expansion as well as product conception and development, the results of which have won numerous awards (e.g. iF Gold). Previously, Moritz was Design Lead Germany at PwC Experience Consulting with a 50+ design team across four locations (Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf). Until then, he was Vice President Design of the Viessmann Group for +5 years, built up the first in-house design department and centrally managed all design products of the family-owned company with 12k employees and an annual turnover of €3.4 billion (2021). From 2010-2014, Moritz designed for Phoenix Design in trusting cooperation with founder Andreas Haug for brands such as Adidas, Fresenius Kabi, Hansgrohe, Vorwerk and others. Moritz has been a qualified industrial designer since 2010 and studied product and transportation design at the Braunschweig University of the Arts with Volkswagen AG and Bugatti S.E. as his main study partners.
Moritz has three daughters and lives with his wife in Berlin.
The German Innovation Awards
The German Innovation Awards honour products and solutions across all industries that distinguish themselves above all through user-centricity and added value compared to previous solutions. With the award, the German Design Council recognises companies that impress in an outstanding way with new, forward-looking technologies, processes or services.
Registration for the German Innovation Awards 2023 has been open since 4 October.
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