Is your organization struggling to drive new innovation initiatives? The culprit may be that your employees are too afraid to fail. When talking with organizations I often hear the same refrain – we want our people to innovate but they won’t step forward to lead new innovation initiatives. Earlier this year I consulted with a company that was struggling with the same problem. The organization had been around for over 25 years and just a couple of years earlier a new CEO was brought in from Silicon Valley. The new CEO saw a lot of potential within the organization but too much of that potential was locked up behind department silos or trapped in the mindset of how things had always been done. He wanted his people to be free to innovate and drive the next wave of ideas and opportunity for the organization but after two years he wasn’t seeing the results he had hoped for.
Most startups will fail. Everyone in the startup community knows that failure is a more common occurrence than success. Silicon Valley has become so enamored by the “value of failure” that rumors suggest they are considering handing out merit badges for failed entrepreneurs. Just how common is startup failure? Harvard researcher Shikhar Ghosh cites that 75% of VC funded startups fail to return a single dime to their investors. So why do we hear so little about failed startups in Minnesota? Are we too “Minnesota nice” to brag about our failures?
We are constantly bombarded with the latest “innovation” stories from Silicon Valley tech startups. Almost never do we hear the stories of amazingly innovative non-profits – but trust me they do exist. As in business, sometimes innovation initiatives succeed but sometimes they miss the mark. How organizations chose to accept and learn from those failures can dramatically influence their future success. They are not just attempting to launch new initiatives, they are creating a culture of innovation.
I work with companies large and small who are trying to develop a sustainable innovation practice. They don’t just want to launch an idea on a wing and a prayer. They want to find a repeatable process that can improve their chances of success. Admittedly they have tried the wing and prayer route before and they know it doesn’t work. The truth is that most of these disruptive or exponential innovation initiatives don’t succeed. They fail. The challenge that these companies face is that they are trying to build the tools and processes but they struggle to address the culture. They never address the necessity of failure.
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 Friday CNET reported that Nike had fired a large part of their Digital Sports division, the team responsible for their FuelBand product. It was estimated that of the 70 person hardware team, 70-80% were let go. Based on the comments of Nike representatives it sounds as though the company isn’t abandoning the technology altogether but just pivoting away from hardware manufacturing. With more phones and wearable devices adding the necessary chips to track motion it looks like Nike will pivot to become more of an integrator into other hardware platforms.
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