When working with organizations I frequently talk about the need to build a “Propensity for Action” in order to support driving growth and innovation. With many for profit, and nonprofit, organizations it is far too easy to cower behind the “Tyranny of No” rather than building a culture of action around the tools of hypothesis, test, and verify. A frequently response from leaders is that new ideas are too costly or too risky to take on but if the alternative is waiting for the perfect answer it can be equally damaging to an organization. The challenge is that the odds are stacked against new ideas and most of them will not work out at planned – they will fail. The irony is that unless you are willing to take action and risk possible failure you will remain stuck with the status quo.
Last year I had the chance to do an interview with a former classmate and friend Lt. Col. Mark Weber on his thoughts regarding “Leadership, Learning, and Failure.” Three years ago Mark had gotten a request to rejoin General David Petraeus as he was appointed to take command of the war in Afghanistan. From a routine blood draw and examination it was discovered that what Mark thought had been an ulcer was in fact cancer. For the last few years, Mark has taken great care to share his journey in his fight against cancer illuminating his circumstances to help others in their fight. Frequently he didn’t have “answers” from the medical community so he decided to lead the assault himself, figuring it out along the way. In the summer of 2012 Mark decided to take control of writing his own narrative too, wanting to share not just his cancer journey but his life story in a book Tell My Sons. Like every father, he wanted to hand down his thoughts, ideas, and lessons learned for his sons.
A couple of days ago I heard about another amazing example of a “child” showing us their own power of creativity to drive innovation and I thought about a recent experience playing a game with my son . A child’s ability to create a hypothesis, test, and verify process is no less than an adults and it may be improved since they are not bridled by the fear of failure. This year we have seen a couple of the most astonishing medical inventions come from work of teenagers! How do we continue to create an environment where they are able to discover, explore, and create? If their current pace of innovation continues maybe we will need to start referring to them as the MD-Generation?
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