Why does Roger Federer serve double faults? Every double fault is a failure – it gives a precious point to his opponent. He could easily cut out all double faults by slowing down his second serve to ensure that it lands safely in the service box. Yet in most long matches Federer, like most other top players, will serve at least 3 double faults.
Clearly the tennis champion has made a careful calculation of the trade-off between being bold or cautious on his second serve. He knows that if he makes his serves safe he will make the returns easier for his opponent. He wants to win a high percentage of points on his serve and use it as an attacking tactic. He is quite prepared to lose some points as double faults if it means that most of the time his serves are difficult to return. There is an optimum number of double faults that a tennis player should serve in a match and the number is not zero.
The same principle applies to us in our enterprises. Caution can be an enemy of success. If every new thing that we try works it almost certainly means that we are not being bold enough. We should take some courageous initiatives. We should sometimes fail. We should serve some double faults.
What innovations have you tried in the last three months? Make a list. How many succeeded and how many failed? For those that failed, why did they fail? What lessons can you learn? Obviously you aim for success and you want to win. But there will be failures on the road to success. If you cut out the possibility of failure then you limit your chances of success.
Paul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader published by Kogan-Page.