Failure is core to innovating

“Fail Fast”. “Failure is Learning”. “Fail Forward”

You’ll hear a lot of this whenever someone is talking startups or innovation. Extra points for “Disruptive Innovation”.

But what does this really mean? Is it ok to fail where you work? Talk is cheap. Try failing and see how fast you don’t get that promotion, increase or whatever it is you’re after.

Fortunately I work in an environment where it’s OK to Fail. As Marc Andreessen said in their 16 Things post,

“The goal is not to fail fast. The goal is to succeed over the long run. They are not the same thing.” …Enough said.

I inherited an innovation team 6 months ago, and although they have been driving hard at challenging the business and creating new things, failure did not sit comfortably. We’ve all been taught to appear is as if everything is in hand and under control, while paddling madly like ducks under the surface. How do you change this?

You get one of these

Every day I push the Fail Button. Cheesy? Maybe, but it works.

The first few weeks I’d ask the team “What have you failed at today?” And they’d proudly say “Nothing” with a confident smile. After leading from the front and openly displaying failure daily, I was pleased that by week three I asked “What have you failed at today?”. The answer, with the same confident smile was, “I f*ckd up 5 things before lunch!”.

Brilliant! This showed comfort with rapidly iterating, learning and a preparation to take more and more risk. This paid off handsomely when we brought a new product to market ten weeks later with a handful of people. Unheard of in the business to that point.

And no, we’re not blindly failing fast, wasting money and playing with new tech toys. We’re taking calculated risks, using the best thinking from startups, Google X and others and iterating (failing) our way to success.

More about our approach in an upcoming post.

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