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June 23, 2016

Failure is Fearing to Innovate

Posted by Richard Lobo (View Profile | View All Posts) at 1:04 PM

A few months ago, there was a chalkboard put up by someone in New York with the instruction "Write your biggest regret". The board stood all day & as passersby scribbled on it, it was interesting that most regrets were about actions NOT taken - a dream not pursued, a chance not taken... and various opportunities not taken. 

Could some of these have been because of fear?


Who hasn't experienced this anxiety? I'm sure most of us have tried to overcome it in a variety of ways - by looking our biggest fear in the eye, restating a goal, objectifying it or even succumbing to the fear to get over it once and for all. Those of you who have tried would know how hard it is. 

So imagine the size of the challenge when an organization, with all its complexity and constraints, tries to conquer its fear of failure. 

The idea of the fearless enterprise is great in theory. But in the real world, the enterprise is answerable to customers, regulators, and shareholders, at a minimum. It has few resources and many claimants. It has to learn to live with risk. Above all, it has to handle the doomsayers who resist every bold move, at every step. These are enough to thwart most enterprises. They send them into a shell. They force them to take "safe" decisions that miss great opportunities.

Worst of all, fear of failure chokes the creative spirit of the enterprise.  Every innovation is sized up against its required resources of time, money, manpower and infrastructure. The idea loses to the impediment.   This is the last thing the enterprise needs.

One way to keep innovation going is to break it up into manageable goals. In other words, aim for small innovations, until that killer idea comes along. When innovation is absorbed into the mainstream of enterprise operations - the day-to-day routine so to speak - it not only causes less disruption, but also delivers quick wins to keep the returns flowing and the confidence running.   This is something we are experiencing firsthand with the adoption of our five-point grassroots innovation framework.

Another way to mitigate the risk of failure in innovation is to prototype early and prototype fast. Design Thinking says that in general a rough prototype is sufficient to establish proof of concept, following which the enterprise should build a series of quick and dirty prototypes to progressively refine the model until it comes out right.  Here it is important not to over-engineer the prototype, nor spend too much time and money on it, which would make it very difficult to pull out of an unworkable idea. The prototype should be just about enough to prove an idea has merit, which in itself would go a long way in averting innovation failure at a later date.  Not to mention fear of failure at an initial stage.

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