Pilots: Turning failure into success

Simón Lee
Simón Lee


Pilots, experiments, prototypes, tests or trials are terms that are often used to lower expectations of something or a situation that could present large doses of uncertainty

For example, at Love of Lesbian’s concert held last March, the organization and the media used the term “pilot concert” to refer to this event that was looking for ways to hold safe cultural events.

Generally, as noted above, pilots limit the spread of failure in a controlled manner so we are exposed to a smaller and more controlled loss.

Pilot or fear of failure?

When pilots are proposed in a traditionalist business environment they can often be perceived with insecurity on the part of the promoter. That is when the factions of the fearless, the neutral and the conservative are created. 

All positions are correct and understandable, but it should be noted that the fear of failure is a common denominator of these factions. That unknown terrain, when the dashboard is tinted red, is a common place to end up in more scientific-technological fields.

“0 risk leads to 0 learning, and makes us less resilient to the future”

Those who have lived through the experience of a risky project approval committee are familiar with the risks of the neutral stance. Even opting for the conservative stance carries its risks: “What if the pilot turns out to be a success?”

When running away from failure becomes a continuous practice, becoming integrated into the culture of a company, is when the problem can even become lethal. Pursuing 0 risk leads to 0 learning, and with 0 learning we become less resilient to a future full of uncertainties and threats.

Accept with humility

In one way or another, we have all experienced pilots, experiments… but there is one hard rule we have seen throughout our experience working with large corporations: the determining factor for a pilot’s launch is to be able to start with humility, on both sides, with enough openness to be able to accept the result whatever it may be.

It is easy to say, but this word (humility) can denote inexperience and insecurity, because it focuses attention on the project and ignores the real value in starting down a path of learning and exploration of capabilities, since corporations are not experts in a core business or segment of a client company and they are not dealing with trial and error.

Learning from mistakes

Another determining factor in a pilot’s launch is learning, that great word that is often used as a buffer for failure, as if the objective pursued became something secondary and not intentionally sought out.

The only way to learn is through repetition and failure, but while humility is often perceived as insecurity, the concept of learning is perceived as a collateral benefit: “It was a failure, but at least we learned”.

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We see that companies which start pilots on a regular basis tend to have certain values ingrained in their culture: humility, learning and risk tolerance among them. These values can be a consequence of a path that companies have already started internally or that was instilled by their own founders, but change within larger companies is often not developed alone.

Pilot to move forward

Pilots essentially serve to validate hypotheses with the lowest possible cost and maximize learning, moving from secondary objectives to first level objectives only when they prove successful.

A pilot should be the phase prior to deployment, when uncertainties are linked to the amount of resources needed and the mere execution (without detracting from the term execution, which has its own merit).

Facilitating experimentation

The exciting part of our work at Peninsula is the continuous learning we experience. Throughout the pilot testing process we learned a lot with entrepreneurs and their processes of creating a company through agile and lean startup methodologies, where the word “experiment” is used more, which also releases tensions and expectations.

We have learned a lot working with large corporations, beasts in terms of deployment, execution and tuning, who sometimes need additional help to carry out projects with high doses of uncertainty and that require reactivity, agility and perhaps a different point of view from the well-ingrained corporate strategy.

Our goal is to create clarity out of this uncertainty through pilots and ensure corporate relationships thrive. When we refer to bringing together corporations and startups, beyond technicalities, we introduce that dose of humility necessary for a big company to accept working with a small one, and for the small not to feel intimidated by the big.

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