I see patterns. Fear not, this isn’t the introduction to a new M. Night Shyamalan movie but I do enjoy opportunities where I can connect the dots. Maybe it is the linear, logical, left –brain, former programmer in me but I relish when I find patterns that emerge across different disciplines, groups, organizations, etc. Five years ago I was part of a public policy group that mixed professionals from different worlds – for-profit, nonprofit, government, education, etc. The goal of the program was to advance public policy awareness and build public policy leadership. What I quickly recognized was that many of the same issues that were challenging me in the “for-profit innovation arena” were also plaguing these other groups. The challenges of funding, personal & organizational risk, managing expectations, and the fear or failure were consistent. There were some nuances but there was far more similarity that difference.
We often hear about the importance of failure when driving new ideas or new businesses. We’re given advice to Fail Early, Fail Often, and Fail Cheap. While this well-meaning advice is accurate on the whole the reality is that failure in most organizations comes with pretty heavy consequences. Within mature organizations a failed initiative can have a dramatic impact for both the individual and the long term success of organization itself.
Last year I began writing an online column for Pollen titled Facing Failure as an effort to spark a discussion on the importance of failure in driving innovation in the non-profit, education, and government sectors. Most of us would prefer to avoid failure and the pain that it can cause but to truly create something new mistakes will need to be made along the way. In politics, a “failed” initiative can quickly sabotage a political career which is why most politicians are quick to dismiss or gloss over their shortcomings. But there are some politicians are trying to reframe the discussion with candor and transparency. I am excited to share my recent interview with one such politician, former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.
Are we ready for a new twist on reality TV? What if we moved benign academic tussles to a new full-contact arena? We could call it the “Ph.D. Cage Match.” Not likely but I have to admit truthfully that it has been a little exciting watching this battle of words brewing between two Harvard academics. Jill Lepore (a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine and Harvard Professor of American History) and Clay Christensen (a Harvard Professor of Business Administration and the reigning godfather of the modern innovation movement) have been publicly duking it out over their disagreement on Christensen’s theory of “disruptive innovation.”
Last month consulting firm Accenture released a report (“Why Low-Risk Innovation Is Costly“) on the state of innovation at big companies from the U.S., U.K., and France. Their survey of 519 executives at large companies concluded that most were disappointed with the return on their innovation investment. Many of these companies cited that they were scaling back their disruptive innovation efforts and settling for more incremental innovation like product line extensions.
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