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Fail! It’s good for you (and your company)

Our Culture

24 May 2021

Fail! It’s good for you (and your company)

Avoiding mistakes costs more than making them. Do, test, try, and fail. It’s better to do 10 things, fail at 6, and have 1 incredible success rather than do just one safe thing that will surely work (only to find out that it doesn’t)

"I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot, and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed”.

- Michael Jordan

Taken from the “The Wix way - the way we are (or trying to be)”, our internal core values document.

Although the statement is pretty clear, we spoke with two of our managers who shared how it influenced their day to day lives and how they stopped worrying and embraced the occasional failure.

Shai Kfir, Wix’s Global Head of Customer Solutions QA, isn’t theorizing about our “We allow failures” value. He knows first hand what it’s all about and his experience turned him into an advocate of one of our more unique values.

“In order for you to learn how to ride a bicycle, you’ll fall about ten times. It’s not fun, but since no one learns how to ride a bike without falling, you’d be better off if you’d finish the falling phase as fast as you can”, Shai says.

“From my experience, building products isn’t that different from learning how to ride a bike - you have to know that you’ll crash a few times along your journey. You always do your best, but you know that the next fall is inevitable, and the way I see it, the best thing for you to do is to get on the bike again as soon as you can and try again. Eventually you’ll know exactly what you’re doing”.

So failing is always good?

“I think that we have to ask ourselves what failure is. Trying to achieve something and not succeeding? You know, over the years we developed features that we thought were great and ended up not being used by our users. Is that a failure? Sure it is, but we learned lots of things in the process and all those things teach us how to be better in the future - find out what our users need so they can be successful”.

“We’re not talking about any type of failure”, Amit Kaufman, our VP of the Editor group, clarifies. “For example, if you’ve failed repeatedly while performing the same task or if you failed when you operated in a riskless environment that doesn’t require learning, or if the failure was caused by laziness or lack of attention. It’s okay to fail, but I want people to leverage that state of mind towards achieving something significant. If you’re using this approach to tell yourself that failing is always alright, you’re hurting your motivation to achieve something truly great, so we don’t want that”.

Creating a fear free environment

But that’s only one side of the equation. The other one is creating an environment in which people feel safe to try new things, without fearing that there will be ramifications if things won’t work out.

“In 2012 we were working on our HTML Editor”, Shai begins his story with a smile. “One night we had some kind of malfunction, and early in the morning, in my 500th attempt to fix it, I uploaded a code change from my personal computer into our production environment without testing it beforehand. After about 15 minutes I saw the graphs on the screens peaking through the ceiling with error messages. I raced back to my computer and rolled back the code change in hope that everything would get back to normal, but that didn’t happen. During the time that my bad code was live, users who were working on their sites had their content deleted. The only way to retrieve it was to get in touch with our Customer Care Experts who did it manually, and that was all they did for the next three weeks”, he sighs.

And how did that make you feel?

“Horrible. At the time, all our morning meetings were about that incident. However, while people were working really hard to fix the problem, I wasn’t blamed for anything and my name wasn’t mentioned even once. After a few days, I walked into Nir Zohar’s office (Wix’s President and COO) and asked him if he heard about the incident. He said that he did. I asked him if he knew that I was responsible for it and he replied that he did. Then I asked him why he didn't say anything to me about it, and he replied by asking me if I thought that this mistake could happen to me again. After I said ‘Not while working here or anyplace else’, he concluded our talk by asking me ‘So, what do you want me to do about it?’”

9 years after the incident, Shai sees it as a good example of the importance of the “We allow failures” value - remaining focused on achieving our goal while never looking for people to blame when things don’t go as planned.

“I’m sure that this culture enables people to be honest with each other, to learn from mistakes and to build mechanisms that will prevent certain mistakes from happening again. There’s a fine line between being reckless and daring, and you need to be careful, but this value allows people to do things that are crucial for innovation. If people are looked upon badly after failing, they wouldn’t dare trying new things and everybody would stick with whatever works, without pushing to improve and do a better job”.

Amit says that although he hates failing, he cherishes his failures. Why? Mainly because of the strong correlation between success and perseverance, meaning that big goals are usually reached only by doing things again and again, failing at them, and only finally succeeding.

The solution to all that, he says, lies in the fact that another rock-solid truth is that at Wix, failing will not hurt your career or your reputation.

So what’s a good failure?

“The idea is to use your failures as a springboard to propel yourself forward, but obviously if you’re afraid to step on that springboard you won’t make that jump. I think that people should feel comfortable to step on that springboard and take their leap of faith to a future success. More than anything else, gaining something unique derives from the risks that you take. If the risk is low - the gain will probably be just as low. If there’s no meaningful risk, everyone would take it, and then the possible gain would drop dramatically since it wouldn't be unique anymore. We believe that as a manager you have to convey this state of mind to your team because if you won’t do it, people will become paralyzed and avoid doing things”, he states.

How do you do it?

“You have to normalize the situation. We need to talk about failures, we need to celebrate them and we need to be proud of the places in which we failed. Some people try to hide their failures or to sugarcoat them, but I’m sure that we need to get rid of that. When I interview people who want to work at Wix, I always tell them about my failures and how I learned from them and I think that as a result they don’t see me as a failure but as a person who grows and they want to join so they can grow too. They know that it might not be pretty and that it can be painful, but that it’ll be inspiring”.

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