Celebrating Failure Helps Your Innovation Efforts

A failure doesn't always signal the end of your organization. Often, they're lessons that can help your company's innovation efforts more effective.                 

Carter Liebscher|
January 7, 2020

No company wants to fail. Every company wants to succeed, of course, regardless of whether it’s through small or large victories. Just as a success is a success, though, a failure is still a failure. 

Companies fear that when they release a disappointing product, all of their hard work and their reputation has been forever tarnished. Company leaders will try to avoid that by indefinitely recreating past successes, using the same working processes out of habit and hope.

What happens, then, when a series of successes is punctuated with a one-off failure? The company maintained the original working process that initially achieved glowing results, but this time the results are less than ideal.

That’s precisely the issue: That company’s working process wasn’t reworked, its market trend research wasn’t thorough, and its new project was too similar to the original successful project.

We believe that first instance of failure is jumping-off point for future success. Frequent failure is even ideal. Playing it too safe postpones the learning the lesson that failure indicates something in your company simply needs recalibrating. In other words, a slight failure does not signal the end of your organization—it can even be the saving grace.

Of course, unconventional endeavors should be tempered with projects backed by data and common sense. Nonetheless, seeing through offbeat projects can have surprising results. Numerous big players have embraced small failures as a way to stay the course. Google, Netflix, and Amazon take the motto “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough” to heart, often encouraging their employees to pitch left-field ideas.

Here are some of the ways your organization can welcome novel ideas, even if they haven’t been tested before, to help boost your company’s innovation efforts.

Inciting Feedback and Ideas From the Front Lines

Acting on unconventional ideas can seem, and indeed be, risky. Building a work environment where all employees are encouraged to share their ideas, unconventional or more traditional, can inspire change in your company. Even if outcomes are lackluster at first, the likelihood of future success increases every time you test a new idea.

We believe front-line employees have the most valuable vantage point across company hierarchies. They interact with consumers on a daily basis, hearing out their issues and positive feedback, and they interact with management that pass on those issues and positive comments.

Management can facilitate employees’ feedback on consumer interactions that have things to say, positive or negative, about a new product or service. Recognizing front-line employees’ insight and implementing ways to pass that on allows companies to test new projects out with a built-in feedback system.

Allowing front-line employees to be creative, whether that’s with their own ideas or by providing constructive criticism on other departments’ work, pushes your innovation efforts forward—even if those ideas or critiques are counterintuitive.

Tweaking Your Working Process—And Your Results

It makes sense that companies will repeat the process that allowed for a successful product. However, repeated processes only create repeated outcomes when all conditions are the same, including market demand and opportunity.

Changing up your work process, whether that’s roping in more internally across departments or externally, as through corporate accelerators, will in turn change the project’s outcome. With more hands on deck, the focus becomes less on success based on one team’s definition of success and more on an overarching sense of completion.

Changing the process changes the outcome. You’ll be more interested in learning something new than achieving the elusive, reductionist, all-encompassing “success.” 

Bouncing Back

Not only does the immediate fallout of an underperforming project frighten companies, but they’re also worried how they can bounce back.

It’s obvious and easy to say, but learning from the failure is the best way to move on. Dissecting what went wrong and which elements are promising—perhaps hearing feedback from front-line employees that know what consumers are saying. The next time around, whether your organization tries revamping the product or unveiling an entirely new one, there’s a review process in place.

In a way, it’s almost as if you’re planning a failure. Planning a failure is different from bracing for one or, worse yet, anticipating a success on unfounded data: You get to rework the big picture and come back strong with a success story.

We’ve mentioned a few specific company failures in the past. Next week, we’ll look over some other examples of failures that allowed companies to come back up on top. 

In the meantime, take a look at our innovation resources to learn more ways to keep your company agile, even in the face of disappointment.  

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