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Trying and failing

I trust that the readers had a good rest and that the batteries are charged for the exciting year that lies ahead.  A year where changes and differences can be made!  Usually around the beginning of the year, I start with some innovation goals, since it’s the time when resolutions for change are being made.  Well, during the holiday I read up a lot on goal setting and why people give up on goals (i.e. not sticking to your new year’s resolutions) and I decided to take a different approach this year.
It is still a fact that setting stretch goals is a crucial part of improving performance, and I am not lessening the impact and power of goal-setting.  However, I also had some time during the holiday to focus on my research project, and I am now more than ever convinced of one thing that has an even bigger impact on innovation than that of proper goal-setting.

Practising innovation
I have argued many times that innovation is about change management.  By definition, innovation is giving something new to the world, and accepting something new requires some level of change.  The other universal truth of change (innovation) is that it involves risk.  Risk means that there is a possibility that things can go wrong or not as planned, and with innovation (something new) that possibility is usually high. In the competitive, performance-driven world we now live in, the F-word, Failure, is almost a swear word.  Let’s face it, you don’t have to be a psychologist to know that people are afraid to fail, especially in an organisational environment. Being held in high regard by other people, especially those with whom one interacts in an ongoing manner, is a strong fundamental human desire, and most people tacitly believe that revealing failure will jeopardize this esteem.   However, as I always advocate, innovation does not happen by reading, doing presentations and having meetings, innovation happens when people take action.  Let us compare innovation to buying and using an exercise machine.  Deciding to buy the machine is one thing, but it only when you start using it, you acquire the benefit of your decision.  Deciding to innovate is one thing, and having a great idea just the same, but it is only when you take action on your idea, that you start implementing. You don’t learn to play tennis by reading a book on it, you learn to play tennis by picking up a racquet and trying to hit the ball.  And yes, you will fail sometimes, but that is how you learn.  Even the great innovators fail, let me give you a couple of examples.  Microsoft launched the Zune as a rival to the iPod, you can think how that ended.  Harley Davidson tried to make perfume.  Coca-Cola changed their classic recipe and launched “New Coke”, they abandoned the product after a few weeks and went back to the old formula.  Google launched a virtual world game called “Lively”, it pulled the plug after 5 months. Success and failure are two sides of the same coin. No one succeeds without experiencing the disappointment that comes with failure. Learning to fail better is essential for organisations wanting to succeed better in innovation. Organisations must experiment effectively – an activity that necessarily generates failures while trying to discover successes – to maximize the opportunity for learning from failure and minimize its cost. In short, I argue that organisations should not only learn from failure – they should learn to fail intelligently as a deliberate strategy to promote innovation and improvement. So, no innovation goals this time, but rather a dare that you to take action to innovate, and accept the possibility that you might fail, and if you do fail, learn from that failure and get a step closer to being a successful innovator.

Next Time
Next time I will focus on the process of how organisations can learn from their mistakes. I conclude with a quote from one of the biggest sport stars of our time, the eminent Michael Jordan: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed”.

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