I think you will agree with me that when we come together in these social constructs called companies we tend not to be as innovative, adaptable or inspirational as any one of the human beings in those organisations. Why is that?
These companies tend to perpetuate this fear of failure. As a result, we only innovate around tiny, incremental ideas that we’re almost one hundred percent certain are going to succeed because it’s a reputational hazard if we do otherwise. As a result, companies usually don’t invest in big, supernova ideas that are going to leapfrog the competition and achieve exponential returns. It is contingent on the leadership community in organisations to rethink their attitude toward failure and how they communicate failure as a learning opportunity.
Of course you have to control the risk when you are innovating, but you have to consider your innovation pipeline as a portfolio with a collective return rather than as individual opportunities that represent lots of chances for embarrassing failures. If you have one supernova idea out of a hundred that you try over the course of a year, it doesn’t matter if the other ninety-nine were unsuccessful. And I’ll go even further! You never could have had that one supernova idea unless you also tried the hundred ideas.
How many of us in our companies try a hundred new things in a given year? Very few! U.S. Poet Laureate Maya Angelou once reflected, ‘People will forget what you said…but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ As leaders, therefore, let’s think about how we make our people feel about failure. Change that attitude and we may find that our organisations are much more innovative than they ever could have been in the past.
Adam Kingl is the author of Next Generation Leadership (HarperCollins) and is a keynote speaker, educator and adviser. www.adamkingl.com