This article is the first in my new series of Failure Forums published in Innovation Excellence. The series is focused on bringing the role of innovation failure to the forefront. It will intentionally bypass the innovation success stories to focus on the lessons learned from failures. It is never easy to disclose our professional failures but these brave innovation practitioners are doing exactly that so that others can learn from their experiences. This is the story of Jeff Stratman, a corporate innovator, and his journey to launch a new corporate venture called Orgango.
For the longest time business and military leaders wouldn’t dare utter the word failure in front of their organizations. For many the credo was that failure wasn’t an option. Times have certainly changed but many organizations are just scratching the surface in addressing the difficult issues surrounding failure.
I will be hosting a roundtable discussion on “Driving Growth by Addressing Failure” at this year’s FailCon 2013 conference.
In business we often launch new initiatives without thinking through the “what if’s?” of the project failing. Instead we get to the end of the road and the initiative didn’t turn out as planned. Rather than chalking up one big failure at the end you can break the initiative up into pieces and evaluate each stage along the way.
When executives are allowed to hide their innovation failures the entire organization suffers. False expectations are set for the entire group of executives, innovation leaders see their careers scuttled, and every other employee fails to learn from the failure. Without clear organizational expectations of documenting, sharing, and learning from our failures we will continue to see them covered up. Left to our own devices we will naturally seek to avoid our failures and move into self-preservation mode. In my work helping organizations to build strong innovation processes this is a common issue but it can be resolved.
A few weeks ago I wrote a post on how Jeff Bezos creates opportunity for vast discovery at Amazon (my post Amazon Drives Innovation by Creating Opportunities for Vast Discovery). I had actually been working on this post at the time when I found a great quote from Bezos on the culture of “pioneering” that he was trying to create at Amazon. It made for such a great story that I just had to run with it and push this story aside. Well, Bezos has done it again. He threw the world another curveball yesterday with the announcement that he is purchasing The Washington Post for $250 million. The pundits are in a whirlwind discussing whether or not Bezos will be successful with this big gamble. Knowing Bezos and his long-term orientation I would give him better odds than most that he will find success.
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.
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