Skip to main content
  1. News
  2. Business & Finance
  3. Industry

EMBRACING FAILURE AND WORKING AT THE EDGES

See also

Before you innovate, you need to re-think the way you think about innovation. Innovation surprises us. It’s often not what we would expect it to be—and it often requires us to do things we wouldn’t do in our day-to-day lives. In innovation, failure is unavoidable. Any time you try to learn something new—which is precisely what innovation is—there is a developmental cycle. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Take out a piece of paper, draw a picture of a dog, and I can tell you at what you age you stopped learning to draw. Learning how to innovate is like speaking a foreign language or playing a musical instrument: you need to get practice and experience—and fail—before you can get good at it.

Instead of trying to avoid the inevitable failure that comes with learning how to innovate, try to accelerate it. Think about how venture capitalists invest. They’ll give money to many different companies that are trying to produce a therapy for the same disease. Why are they spreading out so far? Because they’re trying to accelerate the failure cycle. In the next round, only two or three companies will survive, and by the time that company has an initial public offering, one will remain. They’re very quickly turning over—or churning—their portfolio to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Innovation does not happen in the middle of the organization. Rather, it happens from the edges. Imagine a bell curve. Think about what goes in the middle of your organization. There are all kinds of hurdle rates about who gets money, measures about what we’re going to do, rules about who we’re going to hire. So the middle of the organization is designed to eliminate variation. It’s designed to become efficient or optimized.

Now think about the edges of the organization. This is where things are either in a crisis or going really well. Whenever there’s a crisis, the risks of innovating and the rewards of staying where you’re at are reversed. When things are going poorly, you’ve got nothing to lose. The same is true when you’re on a roll: you can—and should—try lots and lots of new things. We call this risk capital. The point is this: instead of launching your innovation in the middle, which is designed to get rid of variation, launch the innovation at the ends, where risk and reward are reversed. This is where you’ll find truly fertile ground.

Embracing failure, working at the edges—these are strategies that would not work in other aspects of organizational culture. But in innovation, they are crucial. When we innovate, we don’t do the same things we do in our everyday routines. We deviate. We experiment. We take risks. The unexpected becomes a good thing. Don’t move in straight lines, don’t fall in love with your solution—fall in love with the problem.

###

**NEW*** from the Jeff DeGraff Innovation Library, THE ENLIVENED SELF eBook series. The Enlivened Self entwines leadership principles, innovation methodologies, personal development techniques and creative memoir into an integrating process for re-creating yourself. The Enlivened Self is a guidebook rich with media and web resources, and opportunities to engage for anyone who wants to become the very best version of themselves. The full omnibus version is available now at www.jeffdegraff.com.

Advertisement

News

  •  One year later
    How victims have recovered a year after the Boston Marathon bombing
    Video
    Watch Video
  • Tax day freebies
    Everyone dreads tax day, but some businesses are offering deals today only
    Tax Day
  • Obamacare savings
    The rollout of Obamacare will cost $104 billion less than previously projected
    Top News
  • Blood Moon
    The first of four 'Blood Moons' came and went; is it the beginning of the end for mankind?
    Headlines
  • Arrest for threatening tweet
    A 14-year-old girl is arrested for issuing a threatening tweet towards American Airlines
    Strange News
  • Pistorius cross examination concludes
    Oscar Pistorius sheds more tears during the trial's final cross examination
    Video
    Watch Video

User login

Log in
Sign in with your email and password. Or reset your password.
Write for us
Interested in becoming an Examiner and sharing your experience and passion? We're always looking for quality writers. Find out more about Examiner.com and apply today!