Moments of Learning

“I believe innovation is our destiny and must be part of a corporate culture.”   – Gary Shapiro

Innovation, Failure and Corporate Culture, the title of a recent article in Forbes, made me reflect on what it means to take risks, to fail, to be – dare we say – vulnerable in the pursuit of Innovation.

“Innovation is strongly encouraged and expected, but how many companies have a culture and structure encouraging innovation?” Gary Shapiro, author of this article and a book titled The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream, is dead on. Innovation is a key corporate and national strategy for many companies, but ‘innovation’ is inherently full of risks and takes a willingness to accept that it’s never a safe bet. “Risks imply that some strategies don’t work or ideas fail.”

Based on his research, Shapiro argues that the larger and more successful the company, the more challenging it is to innovate. This is true not only because of bureaucracy, but also because of a perceived fear of failure.

So how do leaders champion innovation? Shapiro references the Innovation giants Apple, Steve Jobs, Intel, Andy Grove and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos as leaders that encourage and support innovation from the top. “They not only reward successful innovation, but also they encourage, rather than punish, those who have tried to innovate.” These failures become moments of learning for those that were involved, and create learning opportunities for others as to what may have gone wrong and where the next opportunity, improvement or idea may live. It’s akin to the ideas of design thinking and rapid prototyping where one fails sooner and more often on the path to realizing remarkable results.

Furthermore, “savvy leaders know that everyone in the company watches carefully how leaders respond to a failed risk. Is it a career killer or a learning experience? Not to say failures should be rewarded – but new strategies have risks, and they don’t always work.”

If we truly want a culture of innovation, the question that may be posed as: how does one deal with those who take risks and then fail? How many failures might someone have before they are ‘benched’?

Risks and subsequent failures are part of a continuum of generating big ideas towards innovation that often result in amazing and profound discoveries. Companies that appreciate and understand ‘out of the box’ thinking and visioning will ask “Why can’t we do it differently? Do it better?” without hesitation, and support the potential failures encountered along the way to true innovation.

September 19th, 2012 | Work It

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