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.
In my last post I had highlighted the benefits of being a young entrepreneur in experiencing failure sooner rather than later in life (Why Youth Can Be an Advantage in Being an Entrepreneur). As I was working on that story I kept thinking about how the same advice holds true for the young employee as well. Learning from our failures doesn’t have to equate to getting older. Last week I published an article on The 5 Traits of Those Who Learn and Grow from Failure for YouTern.com, a publication focused on students looking for internships or recent college graduates.
This morning there was a great article from MPR reporter Tom Robertson that touched on how the elimination of shop class in high schools is seen as a contributor to decline in skilled manufacturing candidate across the state. “Worker skills shortage starts in high school” parallels a book that I had read a few months back from Matthew Crawford titled Shop Class as Soul Craft. In his book Crawford asks us to examine the intent and outcomes of our fervent battle cry for all kids to go to college and to become part of the information economy rather than becoming makers, builders, and fixers.
Everyone credits Steve Jobs for the success of Apple but where would Apple be without their “failed” former CEO John Sculley who had to oust Steve Jobs from the company he founded? Not to say that their contributions were both equal but they were both instrumental in shaping Apple for its incredible success. It is well understood that organizations need different types of leaders at different times. Sometimes organizations need a good failure to create the drive that will propel them toward success. And sometimes leaders find their passion within the boiling animosity of working relationships. All of these situations were found with the Steve Jobs vs. John Sculley saga at Apple. So how can we learn from them?
As a fan of every opportunity to better understand failure and the powerful role it can play in our lives a friend recently sent me the recording of Dessa Darling’s (a.k.a. Margret Wander) 2012 commencement address to the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota. Dessa earned her degree in Philosophy from the school and is a member of the indie hip hop collective Doomtree, proving that you can actually make money with a Philosophy degree. An interesting side note on Doomtree is that they truly a collective of seven members who come together to make both music and money with no contract. If a member chooses to leave the band they are free to leave with no strings attached and they will be replaced with a new member. Even before forming they seemed to understand that most bands don’t survive when one person leaves and contracts need to be unwound so they created a more fungible organization that will survive and potentially flourish with artists coming and going. This is a great example of creating a structure or process that supports a more natural state of the world.
Earlier this year I had finished Walt Isaacson‘s biography of Steve Jobs. It was a great read with a litany of insights to be garnered out of the book. In fact, I would make this book required reading for every employee in the electronics and retail industries. I will frequently run through a mental index of many of those insights but there is one in particular that continues to stick with me and causes me to examine my understanding of best leadership practices. Throughout the book Isaacson shared examples of Steve’s leadership or people management style. Jobs would oscillating back and forth when giving his employees feedback on their work. He would bounce between “This is Shit” and the occasional “This is Amazing.”
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