Innovation is at the top of the wish list for many companies, but getting there isn’t always a straight path. Moira Lethbridge, Principal and Owner of Lethbridge Associates LLC, learned while successfully building her previous company that jump-starting innovation means giving permission to test new ideas and expecting that some will succeed and others will fail. She works with businesses to incentivize collaboration and use the right kind of failure to increase creativity and innovation. Structural and cultural best practices define what the spectrum of reasons for failure look like within specific organizations and drill down to define what’s “blameworthy failure” as opposed to “praiseworthy failure.”
As part of this week’s 1776 Challenge Cup, Lethbridge Associates LLC will host a panel of four executives from government, military and commercial organizations discussing how they are using failure to increase creativity and innovation. Don’t miss this panel on Thursday, May 15, 9:30 am – 1:00 pm at the Studio Theater on 14th ST., in Washington, DC http://sched.co/1ewUcDk . This is the proposed panel that decisively won the popular vote on the 1776 dc website.
“I’ve seen fascinating ways that people like to kill ideas, she explains. “Our need for certainty is pretty strong. People are wired for certainly the same way we’re wired for food or sex. It’s part of our limbic system.
Wanting to know what the future holds is a huge motivator. When there’s uncertainty, the limbic system thinks it’s a threat. So we say, “Wait a minute. I need the assurance of pleasure and I need the avoidance of pain.” No wonder change is hard, because we’d rather stay with what we know than to take the chance at something new like innovation.
So, businesses need to find a way to normalize the discomfort the chance of productive failure brings to their teams. Of course, the risks of building a bridge are different from building a mobile app.
“It’s natural to question innovation,” Moira says, “You just have to let people know how to do it in a way that doesn’t prove to be a barrier to innovation.” One way organizations are working on this is to spell out expectations clearly for employees, for example, “If I color outside these lines am I ok? Can I experiment with this hypothesis, fail certain tests and be considered productive? Is there a point at which I go too far and lose my job?”
Failure is simply not meeting expectations.
Tips for success:
#1. Write ideas down in their purest form to avoid losing it to the natural filtering process people go through to try to sell their ideas to different people within their organizations.
#2. Learn to tolerate some ambiguity to remove “violent politeness” – the fear of speaking truth to power or truth in power. It’s ok to say we just don’t know if something is working yet.
#3. Understand that creative people are allies in innovation and can be assisted with the constraints of time and budget.
What’s your organization’s ratio of blameworthy to praiseworthy failure? When you know the difference between the two, you will understand that not all failures are created equally. Your organization can learn from praiseworthy failure as long as you accurately assess and act on it.