I’ll start this post by retelling you of the infamous corporate-style urban legend. A new products executive was running with a major initiative and the company had invested $10 million. It failed. The executive went to the CEO with his resignation assuming a failure of this magnitude meant finding work elsewhere. The CEO said, "Are you kidding? I just invested $10 million to train you and now you have a better understanding of how to make this project successful - the last thing I want to do is let you walk out the door."
When I began working at the WCA last year, I experienced something interesting in the syntax of the culture. A common phrase was: Failure is not an option. When this phrase is too dominant, it means the culture has gone beyond a focus on excellence into the danger zone of process perfectionism. And this means taking all variability and chances of failure out of the equation. No risk-taking. We identified that phrase as anti-innovation and have been working to remove it from the language. Embarking on the journey of creating an innovative culture can mean some major shifts, including viewing failure as an integral part of the organization. But there is a huge chasm between one-and-done failure and learn-as-we-go failure. The first is static, present-past oriented. The latter is moving, future-oriented.
Gary Hamel, Innovative Business Thinker, reminds us that it’s necessary to generate and work through hundreds of ideas just to have the best one emerge. Fail forward. Training people to think about innovation is really about training how to problem solve. Innovation is not just coming up with innovative ideas in a vacuum and innovation isn’t just for people who are born creative - it’s totally different. It’s problem solving and encouraging people that all of us can solve problems with innovative ideas. However, it requires giving people permission to fail and experiment.
An innovative culture needs risk-taking in volume.
As a leader, are you failing forward? What is something that you can do this week to encourage this aspect of innovation in your culture? What is something that you need to do to spark innovation within your culture?
by: Craig Terrill (@craigterrill)