We Are Innovation because we fail

We tend to be afraid of failure. We are taught to. Taking risk is not something you usually get rewarded for, and when you do, it feels “extraordinary”. While in fact, innovating often means taking a short term risk for mid to long term return, and it does frighten finance, risk-skeptic managers, project teams comfortable with “not so good” today. The reason for it being: it might not happen at all, it might fail. Think of all the things you could have done if you hadn’t been afraid to fail. This list is the failure. Trying hard and fail isn’t a failure. It is called learning. Strangely enough, innovation analysts and practitioners agree on one point: we are not taught to learn.

Redefining failures

Afraid to fail
Afraid to fail

Michelle Poler has decided to change this attitude. WYSK reports on that young lady who has consciously spent 100 days of her life not being afraid, going against her fears. As the article quotes: “Living a controlled life in New York has been a nightmare. Since the unknown has proven to be so much more fulfilling than the familiar in these last months, I’m ready to let go, face my biggest fears, try to be completely vulnerable about it and enjoy the ride,” Michelle writes about the start of her project.”

In a business world, this type of attitude leads to discovery, learning, and growing, as Nicole Fallon writes for Business News Daily. She interviewed Luis Orbegoso, ADT Business President, who says: “It’s OK to be wrong, and it’s OK to take a big swing and fail, as long as you have gone through a good, sound process of evaluating the opportunity. For example, if you make a significant investment, and you’ve gone through an analysis and reasoning of why that investment should be made, and all of a sudden, you don’t get the returns you expected, it’s OK, as long as you went through [the] process [and] … it was an educated risk.”

Times ahead demand an educated risk taking attitude. Past failures also work as experience. Taken on a local economic level, this allows analysts such as The Economist to think that unicorns born in the Silicon Valley, although over-valued for some of them, will not go through the dot com bubble of early 2000s as their internal and external environment has learnt, and provides a few improvements compared to 15 years ago, although far from perfect. As the article concludes, “the geeks and dreamers who populate the Valley will need to be able to navigate both smooth and rough waters. Some will try to go too high and wipe out into the bay. Others will be diverted by wild winds. But many will make it safely back to shore—only to head back out again for the thrill, the challenge and the future.”

The truth is, as Kathryn Schulz highlights in her talk for TED, we are all “stuck” in a feeling that all we do is right. We lack stand back and the ability to think we could be wrong. As she explains, this is a behavior we inherit from education system and grading. In fact, we have made it a cultural issue. In her view, “This internal sense of rightness that we all experience so often is not a reliable guide to what is actually going on in the external world. And when we act like it is, and we stop entertaining the possibility that we could be wrong, well that’s when we end up doing things like dumping 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, or torpedoing the global economy. So this is a huge practical problem. But it’s also a huge social problem.”

Paul Jarvis thinks the best way to experience successes and failures in making sure you own your own decision and path. As he writes in his article for INC, “Persistency and bravery always trump safe bets and proven methods. And bravery doesn’t have to look like mountain climbing or standing on stage in front of 35,297 people. The bravest acts can be simply putting ourselves out there without knowing the outcome or reception or that 254 people are going to hate us for it.”

Failure is just a sign that you need change

Failure and change
Failure and change

Because we are not taught how to fail, we are not taught how to change either. John Brandon explains how change is necessary to success. In his article for INC, he explains how ” not everyone needs to move across their state. Yet, you might need to make a purposeful, intentional change and then embrace it if you want to see progress.”

Management is seen as an area where failure is part of a learning process. In this question from Patrick Roult on Skiller, people are asked to explain “what is the place of failure in their management style”. As Jean Phillipe RYO answers, “Those who do not learn to fail, fail to learn“, and as in management everything we do is learning, failure is part of the learning process.”

Educated-failures leading to success and change are those that are carefully thought through and incorporated as lessons learnt for the future. Else, the “Fail fast” trap, as Dan McClure calls it in his article for Distilled, might get in your way. As he writes, “So who wins? Speed matters, but it will be the team that gets the greatest insight from their testing investment and then designs the best pivot toward greater value that really excels. It will be the organizations, teams, and individuals who go beyond simply failing fast to become masters of Learning Quickly and Thinking Well.”

Major companies such as Google offer examples of how failure can lead to improvement. As Alexander Sommer writes in his article for WTVOX, ” The company is clearly taking all of the lessons learned from one of the most public betas in recent memory back to the drawing board. And really, the whole thing may have been a necessary evil — how do you test an experimental wearable like Google Glass without turning the whole of the outside world into a testing ground?”

Failures leading to success

Failures and Innovation
Failures and Innovation

In the end, success is the visible part of work that everyone can see, hiding a series of less successful experiences that we tend to keep for ourselves. This is illustrated below as “The Iceberg Illusion”.

Accepting failure is on the path to happiness. What matters is ensuring you get the right viewpoint, and see the iceberg as a whole, not being afraid, but being pragmatic about it. As Jonathan Long explains for Entrepreneur, “When it comes down to it we are all responsible for our own happiness. The only way you will be happy is by changing your attitude and understanding that you are in full control, and fully capable of changing your situation.”

The business world is full of examples of failures leading to success. Daniel Gross, from Strategy and Business, highlights one of them, A123 Systems. After filing for bankruptcy protection, A123 found itself on a rising need for hybrid batteries and was able to seize the opportunity to grow again. As the author concludes, “While the public narrative arc of a company might end with its high-visibility face-plant, the story doesn’t have to end there — especially if the company possesses useful technology that can serve a growing market.”

Failure is definitely part of innovating. It enables to change views and focus on what we really should develop. It enables learning as individuals and as teams. Over time, failures give way to the one success only innovators can see because they know what work and learning it took to get there.

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