I have been following the story of Elon Musk for several years now. His attitude toward innovation, risk taking and the possibility of failure is what I consider to be an “example of good.” This attitude has earned him a handsome fortune (worth $12b as of 2014) and a top spot in my “must interview” list for my book. In my previous world of new business development, my team and I had followed Musk’s company Tesla Motors closely as we were working on opportunities in the electric vehicle industry. At the time Musk had just begun general production of the Tesla Roadster and while it had won an award from Time Magazine as one of the best inventions of 2006 it was far from certain that the company could survive.
I am excited to be a panelist at the University of Minnesota’s “Finding Success through Failure” event on March 27th. The event is hosted by the University of Minnesota Office for Technology Commercialization and is always a great networking event for entrepreneurs or those looking to become an entrepreneur.
The Olympics always bring out the competitive spirit in me. I find my heart racing along with the athletes as they put their lifetime of training to the test for their shot at Olympic glory. For some the difference between a gold medal and despair can be as little as a few hundredths of a second. After this week’s tie for the gold medal in Women’s downhill skiing, a first in Olympic Alpine skiing history, many were suggesting that they needed to start measuring times in the thousandths of a second. Swiss watchmaker Omega has been measuring Olympic time since 1932 and claims that their technology can be accurate to the millionth of a second but the level of accuracy for each sport is determined by the corresponding federation. Whatever the measure of time, success or failure for each of these athletes can come down to the slightest nuance during their final performance.
With a new year brings the annual cycle of personal New Year’s resolutions. Frequently these resolutions include losing weight, reading more, spending less, or getting more involved. Many of us want to change from our current course to something that is more desirable but statistically 88% of the time we will fail at our resolutions. Oftentimes failure comes early in that we say we want to make changes but we never even take the first step.
Driving corporate innovation is far more complicated than most observers realize. During my Innovation Development days I knew that successfully launching a new initiative was a long shot. but looking back I had greatly underestimated all of the forces at play, especially the internal politics. As many organizations are mining “big data” to make better business decisions some companies are looking to mine their “innovation data” to better understand these internal and external forces that determine an initiative’s success or failure.
Much was made this last week over United Parcel Service’s (UPS) failure to deliver packages before Christmas. The media seemed to border on delight in sharing the stories of customers who were upset that their packages didn’t arrive in time. As I heard these stories played over and over again I kept wondering how we got to this point. Last minute shoppers who were Amazon Prime members could order their gifts on December 22nd and still expect them to be delivered anywhere in the country before Christmas with free two-day shipping. But when some gifts didn’t arrive in time who’s to blame – the retailer, the shipper, or us, the consumer?
The truth is that nonprofits experience failure just like every for-profit business: new initiatives fall short of expectations, the synergy of partnerships fails to materialize, or expansion plans overburden an organization’s cash flow. But because nonprofits are so reliant on donations and grants to fund their operations even mentioning the word failure can be lethal. The perception, and perhaps reality, is that no donor wants to think that their contribution is being wasted and no foundation wants to report back to their board on “failed” investments. The result is that “safer is better” and failures are frequently covered up.
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