Friday, April 09, 2010

Innovation success is based on enthusiasm

One of history's greatest quote machines, Winston Churchill, once said that success is based on going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.  I'm going to borrow that quote today and apply it to innovation success.  Innovation success is based on going from "failure" to "failure" without a loss of enthusiasm.  Here's what I mean by that.

Probably the biggest roadblock to innovation in most firms is what I like to call the failure expectation.  I've rarely been in any firm that didn't have any ideas (if so, go ahead and close up shop).  I've rarely been in firms where people thought they weren't creative, and most firms have been "innovative" at some point in their history.  This means that every firm has the opportunity to innovate and some experience at doing so successfully.  What inevitably creeps in is the fear of failing - not just at innovation, but at any new change or experience.  This fear of failure isn't relegated to innovation alone, but to any significant change.  The two easiest ways to kill an idea are to trot out the old saws 1) "The last time we did that it (fill in the blank) or 2) "We've never done that before".  Both of these statements, which you will hear in every firm that attempts to innovate, indicate that safety and comfort and status quo have become more important than discovering needs and changing as the market demands change.

What sustains innovation over time is the ability to fail occasionally, which is an ironclad certainty, without a loss of enthusiasm for the concept of innovation.  I say that failure is an ironclad certainty because with innovation we are placing bets about our ability to predict the future and fulfill new or emerging needs.  Sometimes we'll be right and win big.  Sometimes we'll create products or services that seemed to meet unarticulated needs but miss the window, or don't quite solve the problem.  When those misses occur, your firm has three choices:  sweep it under the rug and pretend it didn't happen, punish all those involved and promise to never let it happen again, or learn from the mistakes and apply the learning at the next possible moment.  In the majority of firms I've worked with, the prevailing sentiment is either sweep it under the rug or punish all of those involved.  Both of these responses speak to a lack of enthusiasm, as if to say, "well, we tried that and it didn't work.  We won't do that again."

Edison didn't quit when the first several hundred filaments didn't work.  Jobs didn't quit when the Newton failed in the marketplace.  Abraham Lincoln didn't quit after he was rejected by the voting population the first three times.  In each case these individuals moved from failure to failure using the learnings to create a success.  Your organization must do the same to build a sustaining innovation culture.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:22 AM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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