We often hear about the importance of failure when driving new ideas or new businesses. We’re given advice to Fail Early, Fail Often, and Fail Cheap. While this well-meaning advice is accurate on the whole the reality is that failure in most organizations comes with pretty heavy consequences. Within mature organizations a failed initiative can have a dramatic impact for both the individual and the long term success of organization itself.
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.
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.
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.
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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