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.
With so many people preaching advice on failure these days (Fail Early, Fail Fast, Fail Often) I thought it might be worth trying to clarify the difference between a failure and a mistake. So often the media loves to amplify the drama surrounding failures by highlighting all of the negative connotations. Words like nosedive, bomb, flop and collapse are frequent synonyms used for failing and each one tries to convey the severity of a failure that may or may not be appropriate. By working toward a common definition we may be able to short circuit the negative implications and fear that many people have with the word failure.
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.
Last night the Miami Heat absolutely destroyed a San Antonio Spurs team that looked like they shouldn’t have even been on the court. Maybe that’s because according to all of the preseason stats and punditry it should have been the Los Angeles Lakers? But when the Lakers lost to the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs their season ended. In sports, as in business, the best laid plans don’t always work out as expected.
Last week I did a story about Dun & Bradstreet CEO Jeff Stibel (@Stibel) on how he had created a Failure Wall at his company in an attempt to build a tolerance for risk-taking and failure within the organization’s culture (Post Here). I was just able to watch a similar interview that the Huffington Post had done a week prior with Jeff and three other guests. I found the discussion with the other guests absolutely bizarre but worth addressing. On one hand they were all praising Jeff for his ability to create a culture that has learned to tolerate failure without being fired. But on the other hand they all expressed deep concern over what would happen if someone took a picture of someone’s failure from the wall and shared it on social media. This is exactly the fear bordering on paranoia that Jeff is trying to address with his Failure Wall.
Most business professionals who rise to the senior ranks of an organization do so because they are extremely driven and frequently very bright. And while personal drive and intelligence are what got them to this point in their career it is often times not sufficient to succeed at this level. One area that I have witnessed many leaders stumble is when their expectations don’t match the realities of their organization and their striving for excellence outpaces their team’s ability to delivery satisfactory.
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