Many companies seek to be more agile, customer centred, and innovative these days. Yet agile and innovation are still buzz words rather than actual practice within many organisations.
A coaching client has recently pinned down the one big hurdle for companies in their endeavour to respond to the need of being more agile and innovative: The “no mistakes” culture with its zero tolerance for failure is still predominant in European organisations. It’s frustrating.
More importantly, zero tolerance for failure is a deal breaker for innovation.
By definition innovation is only possible when we dare venture into unknown territories. To do that we need courage to test new ground, resilience to deal with setbacks, and creativity to work with what’s coming up.
It’s simple: When there is no trodden path, there’s a higher risk of misstepping.
For sure, we can equip ourselves well, from proper footwear to a good torchlight, and some extra time. Because we might get lost when forging a new path, and we might get stuck in the mud before moving on.
Similarly, when we create new products or processes, or seek to engage new customers, we need a few supporting tools. But most of all we need a culture that makes it safe to fail, so we can dare try out something new. We can have either one or the other. Learning through failure, or staying safe and doing everything exactly as it’s always been done.
To allow ourselves and others to be innovative and take a risks, let’s treat failure like a scientist.
In other words, let’s give ourselves credit for creating data, both if we fail and succeed. Let’s be willing to openly share and analyse our findings of what worked and also what didn’t work. Thus we enable our community to build on our learnings and move a step further. Change sometimes involves three steps forward, and two steps back.
It helps to expect failure on the way to success.