March 30, 2017
About the author : Joni holds a PhD in marketing. He is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at Qatar Computing Research Institute and Turku School of Economics. Contact: joolsa (at) utu.fi
During the research period for my dissertation based on startup failures, I realized there are multiple layers of failure factors associated with any given company (or, in reverse, success factors).
Only if you combine these multiple layers – or perspectives – can you understand why one business venture fails and another one succeeds. However, it is also a relative and interpretative task — I would argue there can be no objective dominant explanation but failure as an outcome is always a combination of reasons and cannot therefore be reduced into simple explanations at all.
A part of the reason for the complexity is the existence of parallel root causes.
Alas! We ended up making a circular argument. That can happen with any failure explanation, as can coming up with a different root cause. In a team of many, while also considering several stakeholders, it is common that people’s explanations to cause and effect vary a great deal. It is just a feature of social reality that we have a hard time of finding unambiguity.
In general, it is hard to dissect cause and effect. Human beings are inclined to form narratives where they choose a dominant explanation and discard others. By acknowledging a multi-layered view on failure, one can examine a business case by applying different lenses one after another. This includes interviewing different stakeholder groups and understanding multiple perspectives ranging from individual to structural issues.
There are no easy answers as to why a particular company succeeds or fails, even though the human mind and various success stories would lead you to believe so!