Last week I ran one of my periodic “Big Breakfast” meetings in London. The topic was “How Failure Can Accelerate Growth”. A dozen business leaders attended, from companies with revenues ranging from around £5 million to £50 billion, and Tim Wright, the CEO of NPW Limited – a fast-growing supplier of fun, on-trend, impulse products to retailers across the globe ­– provided his own perspectives to kick-start the discussion.

As I listened to the various contributions, I identified three key factors that were the secret to success and growth:

  1. An environment that encourages risk-taking.

    The discussion was wide-ranging, covering education and healthcare as well as business, but there was unanimous support for the idea of prudent risk-taking as the best way to drive new growth. Equally, there was an acceptance that failures are inevitable and must be seen as an opportunity to learn and develop. What’s more, the executives around the table agreed that learning and development only happens when a real community exists. One director, for instance, told of her time at Asda in the early 1990s when, led by Archie Norman and Allan Leighton, managers running new innovation projects would be encouraged to share both their successes and their failures each Friday in a senior management meeting. The sharing process at Asda wasn’t meant to shame the project leaders, but to encourage them to experiment, try things and take some calculated risks.

  2. Systems that provide insight.

    Encouraging risk-taking doesn’t mean ignoring data. Learning requires feedback and all the executives at the meeting reported using a mix of financial, operational, customer and people feedback to understand and learn from their new initiatives. At NPW, for instance, Tim Wright and his team use external agencies and detailed social media analysis to understand up-coming trends and the business also reviews the performance of each product line from a number of perspectives.

  3. Rapid action for faster results.

    The companies that grow the quickest are those that are the fastest to incorporate new ideas and learning into action on the ground. Asda’s leadership team, for example, established weekly senior management meetings – not monthly or quarterly – to encourage rapid action. At Amazon, Jeff Bezos initiated a similar approach with a weekly leadership team meeting to review the company’s biggest initiatives, and a weekly senior-level review builds the momentum and accountability that encourages others to move at pace.

The group agreed that, on their own, each of these three factors has the potential to improve the pace of growth in any organisation. The impact of each factor is multiplied, however, by the creation of ways of working that incorporate all three factors – a positive environment, insight-generating systems and high-speed implementation.

How well does your business deliver on each of these three critical success factors for sustained growth?


‘The Big Breakfast’ is a six-monthly meeting in Central London for executive directors of leading businesses to meet, share insights and learn. It is held in partnership with SportsAid. For more details, contact Stuart at


© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.