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.
I often talk with business leaders about the need to build in a tolerance for risk taking and potential failure if they want to drive growth and innovate. Frequently I get asked if there are specific areas where we should not tolerate failure? My standard response is that Accounting would be one of those areas where organizations should be very cautious with “innovation” and the potential for failure. This story from today’s headlines in another such area.
Innovation projects fail for many reasons but often times the reasons point back to a disconnect with the customer or within the company. Sometimes the customers weren’t sufficiently ready to buy or use the new product or service. Maybe they didn’t yet understand the benefits, they weren’t comfortable enough with the novelty, or maybe they lacked the infrastructure to take full advantage of the new product or service? There are an equal number of examples where companies were unable to operationalize the new product or service and had to abandon it. But sometimes new innovations fail because a company can’t get out of its own way. The story of Best Buy and their development of the innovative gift registry platform GIFTAG is just one of those stories.
Failure knows no distinction to whether our institution is in business, government, education, or the nonprofit sector. Facing Failure is a new monthly series that I have launched today with the civic-minded publication Pollen. The goal for this column is to bring the topic of failure to the forefront of our civic conversations in an attempt to remove the negative stigma. I intend to do this by sharing stories and the lessons learned from business, nonprofit, education, and government sector failures. The best hope for this column would be that we are able to learn from each other and strengthen our Pollen community. If you have a story that you would like to share please reach out and connect via my contact information below.
One of the things I hate most about our sensationalist news media is how quick we are to label someone as a failure after they have failed. One of the topics that I focus on with my consulting practice is that being innovative requires failing frequently but that doesn’t equate to being a “Failure.” This is true in the arts as well as in business. Perhaps television audiences don’t tune-in to our new show, theater goers skip our new release movie (see my Lone Ranger post), or customers choose not to buy our new product. Each of these are all very complicated endeavors, each with an infinite amount of variables that we can try to control for. We can layout the most thorough and thoughtful plan but sometimes we will miss the mark – we will fail.
According to MarketWatch, Disney’s The Lone Ranger brought in just $48.9 million in its first five days in theaters. Industry experts estimate that the movie cost between $215 million and $250 million to create. With such high production costs, analysts have a bleak outlook that Disney will be able to recoup their costs even with overseas royalties. How in the era of powerful market testing can there be such a big gap between expectations and reality. How can there still be such big box office failures? Many of the biggest bombs are able to recoup revenue through global distribution (see the list of the Biggest Movie Failures).
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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