Article: John Rosling – If Everything is Under Control You’re Going too Slow.

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If Everything is Under Control You’re Going too Slow.

What Mario Andretti famously said about motor racing is perhaps equally true of business. Having the great privilege to work simultaneously with many fast-growth entrepreneurial businesses and with some of the largest corporations on the planet, the stand-out different between the two is their attitude to failure. Most corporates are built to minimise the risk of failure. They build layers of hierarchy and ‘failsafe’ systemization into their processes and into their people. In a word they attempt ‘control’.

Yet, the most successful entrepreneurial companies do exactly the opposite. They don’t seek to stay in control. They know that with speed comes risk. They accept failure as a consequence of momentum. Knowing that freedom creates innovation and agility and that control smothers it, they have learnt to accommodate failure. Even celebrate it.

Spotify uses lean language to explain its culture of dynamic performance. Fail fast they say. Be fail friendly. Embrace failure. And learn from it. Control seeks to eliminate failure. It creates judgment, employs penalty and creates fear. Fear kills innovation. No one will innovate if the culture punishes failure.

So how do you avoid really serious damage if you remove all control?

Part of the answer to that is cultural. If you truly engage people powerfully behind a common purpose they will strive to be their best. Part of the answer is structural; Spotify manage their teams and their processes to ensure what they call ‘limited blast radius’. With freedom comes failure – but you can localise damage through the process of innovation you adopt. Whilst benefiting from the transformational speed and innovation that results.

Large organisations need to learn agility to survive in the dynamic markets of today. Agility comes not from control but from freedom.

People are natural innovators. We just need to get out of their way.


John Rosling is author of ‘The Secrets of the Seven Alchemists’ (Harriman House 2014), CEO of Contexis, a serial entrepreneur, speaker and lecturer on entrepreneurship with a passion for helping corporates think more entrepreneurially (and transform how they connect with SME customers and partners). He started his career in Unilever and Diageo.