Experimentation + Risk (+ Failure)
by Robert F. Brands
Innovation rarely occurs by accident, but is the result of calculated effort, work and risk taking. In the face of failure, it requires one to try, try and try again.
Thomas Edison went back to the drawing board more than 6,000 times before finding the right material to create his incandescent light bulb.
Six thousand times. Do you have that kind of innovative stamina?
Innovation is an experiment of sorts. It requires a culture of risk, opportunity and challenge. Moreover, for an organization to benefit from innovation, leaders and team members alike must welcome – and grow from – failure.
Innovation can only be achieved by taking risks. It may mean failing more times than succeeding in order to reap the sweet fruits of your labor in the end.
Rather than view failure as inherently bad, successful innovation requires that executives and teams commit to learning from each experiment gone bad – and incorporate those teachings into the next endeavor.
Because of a high failure rate, organizations pursuing the practice of Innovation must have a tolerance for failure. Not every idea will win. But each failure must be perceived as valuable in the trial-and-error process as a team seeks improvement. Tolerance for failure must be encouraged, as well as enthusiasm for risk taking. Without risk, there can be no reward.
To create a culture of innovation, organizations should:
- Encourage well reasoned risk taking. The pursuit of innovation isn’t some fool-hardy flight of fancy. Encourage – or insist upon – a plan to be presented first, to ensure understanding and buy-in across the affected organization. Know your tolerance for risk and failure in the pursuit of innovation.
- Test. True innovation requires thorough testing in pursuit of success. Testing, measurement, and an accounting of what’s been learned – even in failure – brings measurable outcomes from successes and failures alike.
- Trust. Do you – as a CEO or team leader – trust your people to pursue new ideas on behalf of the company? Build a culture of trust in the individual’s pursuits – so long as safety measures are in place to safe guard against failure damaging the organization.
Most of all, avoid letting a failed concept kill your team’s motivation. Every idea should be given positive acknowledgment, every failure should be studied for “what went wrong,” and every success should receive appropriate reward. By providing your team with a culture of Innovation, their risk taking abilities will improve. And, as was the case with Mr. Edison, they eventually will see the light borne from their successful innovations.
Robert Brands is the founder of InnovationCoach.com, and the author of “Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival”, with Martin Kleinman – published Spring 2010 by Wiley (www.robertsrulesofinnovation.com).