Apple is arguably one of the most successful companies in the history of business. At the time I write this, it's the most valuable company on earth, worth more than $2 trillion. Much of that value comes from the fact that it makes one of the most popular devices on earth, the iPhone.
I think you can also argue that a lot of that value comes from the success of its CEO, Tim Cook, who has overseen the most extraordinary growth of any company over the past decade. Cook certainly knows a lot about success.
In fact, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a company like Apple is automatically successful. From the outside, it certainly looks like way. Even Apple's less popular, less successful products would be a huge win at almost every other company. It's extremely rare that you hear about a major failure. The only recent example I can think of off-hand--at least on a large scale--is the Butterfly Keyboard that was almost universally panned by customers.
According to Cook, that's intentional. I don't mean that Apple is lying about its success, or trying to hide its failures from its users, but rather, it's intentional about not "involving customers in failure."
It's not that Apple never fails--it's just that the company tries hard to fail before it ships something to its customers. This is actually important, because, as it turns out, failure might be one of the greatest fears of any entrepreneur. The thing is, failure is, as Cook puts it, "a part of life, whether you're a new company startup or a company that's been around for a while."
The occasion was an appearance (via videoconference) at the Viva Tech conference in France. Cook explained Apple's position on failure this way:
We do allow ourselves to fail. We try to fail internally, instead of externally, because we don't want to involve customers into failure. But we develop things and subsequently decide not to ship. We begin going down a certain road and sometimes adjust significantly because of the discovery that we make in that process.
There really is a brutal truth in Cook's statement: Everyone fails at some point. That can be hard to hear, and it's certainly something that many people overlook. In fact, there are plenty of people who have convinced themselves that the key to success is to avoid failure at all cost. The problem is, as Cook points out, "if you're not failing, you're not trying enough different things."
Think about that for a minute. If you're entrepreneurial journey has, to this point, been entirely void of failure, Cook isn't congratulating you. On the contrary, he says you simply aren't working hard enough.
The thing is--and I think this is why this is so hard for people--far too often we become more concerned with the appearance of success than actually succeeding. As a result, we do everything we can to avoid failure or anything that might look like failure.
The way past failure isn't to play it safe, or pretend it won't happen. Rather, the key to success is to build your process in a way that you fail internally, not externally. When you look at failure that way, it changes the way you think about success. Failure is part of the process of doing something successfully.
The reason this is so important is that if you fool yourself into believing that you are immune to failure, you'll end up involving your customers in your failure at some point. That's inevitable. The solution isn't to try harder not to fail, but to try hard to do it in a way that contributes to the success of not only your product, but also your customers.