Is your organization struggling to drive new innovation initiatives? The culprit may be that your employees are too afraid to fail. When talking with organizations I often hear the same refrain – we want our people to innovate but they won’t step forward to lead new innovation initiatives. Earlier this year I consulted with a company that was struggling with the same problem. The organization had been around for over 25 years and just a couple of years earlier a new CEO was brought in from Silicon Valley. The new CEO saw a lot of potential within the organization but too much of that potential was locked up behind department silos or trapped in the mindset of how things had always been done. He wanted his people to be free to innovate and drive the next wave of ideas and opportunity for the organization but after two years he wasn’t seeing the results he had hoped for.
Last week I gave a presentation to a class of undergraduate students from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. The discussion was centered on the topic of failure and how the fear of business failure is relative based on where we live in the world. The students have spent the better part of the last year working on their startup business ideas and I was impressed with what the teams were able to accomplish and where they had admitted their failures. During the discussion one brave student admitted that he had felt a fear of failing during the course of launching their student business. When asked why he had explained that all of the students knew which projects from the previous year had done well and which had failed. He didn’t want his project to be on this year’s list of failed projects. He was interviewing with potential future employers and he wanted to be able to talk about his success.
A couple of nights ago I was catching up on The Daily Show episodes and was watching Jon Stewart’s interview with Sheryl Sandberg (Part 1 and Part 2). If the name doesn’t ring a bell, Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and the author of the new book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. During the interview Sandberg was suggesting that women need to not be afraid and lean in and to break the stereotypes by being more assertive. Let me begin by stating that I have not read the book yet and although I plan to read it, the book hasn’t made its way to the top of the stack yet. Overall I think that Sandberg raises some great points and I agreed with her on 99% of her argument but I think she missed one giant piece of the puzzle.
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