Ilkka Paananen of Supercell: Celebrate learnings from failures

Finnish gaming company Supercell grew from zero to 1.5 billion euros in revenues in just three years with a staff of less than two hundred people. Here is how the company thinks about risks, failures and success:

  1. Risks are needed to create hits.
  2. If there are no failures, not enough risks are being taken and therefore the chance of creating hits is smaller.
  3. Taking risks means that you fail more often than you succeed.
  4. It must be completely safe for all employees and teams to fail.
  5. The learnings from a failure are celebrated across the company. The failed team gets up on stage and tells everyone what went right and wrong and what was learned.
  6. The failure itself is not celebrated but the learnings from it are.
  7. Successes are also celebrated because these can be learned from too. Failures and successes are seen as equally important.
  8. Celebrating failure and success is part of the company culture. The culture is owned by everyone and it applies to everyone, including the CEO.


Marten: I am sitting here with Ilkka Paananen CEO of Supercell, one of the most amazing gaming companies ever created.

If you know Clash of Clans, Heyday, Boom Beach, the newest game – they have created them. It is an amazing company because they grew from zero to one point five billion euros in revenues in just three years and they have a staff of less than two hundred.

The point today is that the gaming business is hit-driven. It is very difficult to find a great game and you have to do a lot of experimentation before you get it right. To get a lot of experimentation you have to have special management techniques and a special culture to make it happen. That is what we are here to discuss today with Ilkka.

In your company you celebrate failure to get to success. Tell us concretely how you do that and what you’re doing.

Ilkka: Right, so to get a bit of background there, the reason why we sort of celebrate failure is that we believe that in the games business it’s really important to take risks. If you don’t take risks, you don’t have chances to do hit games. But by definition, if you take risks then you’re bound to fail more often than succeed.

The way we see it is, if there is no failures, you’re not taking enough risks. Therefore, we wanted to create an environment where it’s completely safe to fail. When we do fail, I would say that we actually don’t celebrate the failure itself, but whatever we’ve learned from that failure.

How we do that in a case of, say, a killed game, is that we have team a who has built that game get up on the stage and they tell everybody in the company what went right, what went wrong.

They also toast that with a glass of champagne, and what they toast is actually not the failure itself, but whatever we have learned from that failure.

Marten: So you drink champagne when you kill a game, not when you have a success with a game?

Ilkka: Well actually, to be honest, these days we also drink champagne and we celebrate successes. Because we’ve actually learned, that you can also learn from the successes. It’s important to have it both ways, so celebrate the learnings that come from successes, celebrate the learnings that come from failures, both are equally important.

Marten: Excellent, and you didn’t say it, but I would guess that you mean that it must come from the top leadership, the CEO. You are the CEO, and you must show your employees that it’s perfectly all right to fail as long as you learn.

Ilkka: Well, I guess it’s up to everybody at Supercell. I mean, we are a very flat organization, and to be an organization of culture it’s not about me. I mean we like to think that we all Supercellians, we kind of own the culture, but yes, it applies to me as it applies to everybody else.

Marten: Ilkka. Thank you. That was wonderful advice for startup CEOs and for any leader. Thank you very much.

Ilkka: Thanks, thanks for having me.


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