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Embracing Failure! FAIL = First Attempt In Learning

Addressing complacency in innovation – Part Two

If we want to address complacency in innovation then we need to start taking risks and embracing failure. After all, when you embrace failure, you truly learn your first real lesson. As you may have read in my last blog post, I recently read an article which outlined that Australia is falling behind in innovation. This is largely because of our highly risk-averse culture.

In part 2 of my five part BLOG series I want to look at how we spur innovation through positive risk-taking behaviour. Increasing one’s innovation capacity is crucial in an era of massive disruption and globalised commoditization of products and services.

We live at a time where creative, original thinking is dangerously low. And yet we need exactly this thinking to solve our individual, community, organisational and global challenges and create a sustainable future .

Innovation is the result of iterative learning processes and safe environments that encourage experimentation, questioning, debate and an acceptance of failure as an essential part of the process.

There are two definitions of the word FAIL which I’d like to share with you.

  1. First Attempt In Learning
  2. Fantastic Achievement In Life

Failure is a necessary part of the innovation process because out of failure comes learning, trying a different way and building of new prototypes until we find success. My grandmother, Slawa Duldig, who invented the very first foldable umbrella(the image for this post is her design) went through numerous iterations of her magical idea over many months. We have her working notes which talk about how she tried different things, failed and then from what she had learn tried a different approach. Finally after many months of trial and error “The Flirt” folding umbrella was patented in Vienna in 1929. Her design is pictured above!

Almost all great innovations are the result of prior learning from failures.Disruptors such as Google, Apple, Air BnB, Uber and Amazon understand the importance of failure.

Unfortunately these companies are not the norm because as a society we are highly risk-averse and have a strong anti-failure bias. Three-quarters of the employees responding to a recent US survey by Accenture believe that only successful new ideas are rewarded, which suggests little incentive to take risks. Only one in five thinks management supports innovation and just 12 percent say their company is very good at accepting failure as part of the process.

People define themselves by whether they make mistakes or not. We adopt behaviours that minimise trying anything new in order to avoid failure. We don’t speak out just in case we are perceived as wrong. We avoid new and uncertain situations which are the very places where innovation opportunities may spark. Many people and organisations want to appear perfect and want to avoid failure at all costs.

Some actions I would recommend:

  1. Accept that failure is an essential part of the innovation process and create safe environments where experimentation and failure are part of the organisation.
  2. Regularly share the learning that comes from failure – have FAIL sessions and FAIL lunches where people are only allowed to share their failures and what they learnt!
  3. Start enabling small experiments and prototypes across all areas of your organisation and throw in some venture capital to the people in your organisation for new innovations to bubble to the top.
  4. Reward innovation mindsets that reject the fear of failure and focus on the joy of experimentation, constant discovery and learning.
  5. Create diverse experiment/innovation groups who support one another and who share their learnings across the organisation
  6. Really think if you need those people around who don’t dare to try
  7. Not taking a risk – is a risk! Human neuropsychology causes us to underestimate the risk of non-action. Yes it is comfortable to do nothing – you know where you stand. But if you want to grow as a human being and reap the rewards of your inventiveness think about what you are risking by not taking a risk.

There is a simple activity you can do to address this: Write down what you could achieve by taking a risk. Now look at what you wrote down and ask yourself: ‘Am I willing to let this opportunity slip by?’..

We need to tap into the passion and talent of our entrepreneurs and ‘intrapreneurs’ (those employees within larger organisations pursuing new thinking) to inspire courageous, fearless, disruptive thinking which leads to the next innovation.

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” – T. S. Eliot

So whether you are suggesting a new idea to your organisation, trying to develop a more innovative culture, dreaming up an invention, developing a solution for a social problem or trying to make the leap into a new venture, remember that it is okay to take risk – in fact it is better than okay. It really is the only way to make progress.

So until next time, remember to dream and inspire change.

And if you want to learn more about risk taking, being positively disruptive and becoming more creative and innovative then get your ticket to Ci2015 where you will hear from over 40 Global leaders inspiring change globally.

Early Bird Tickets on sale now at www.ci2015.com.au

To inspire you and your team’s creative juices, please watch and share my recent TEDxMelbourne talk viewed by over 13,000 people so far!:) We are changing the world, one voice at a time!

And please follow me on Twitter @TaniadeJong

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