Innovation and Fear of Failure

I came across this post on HBR recently  by Doug Sundheim and its a compelling article on how the word innovation is grossly abused and how failures are the most important foundation on innovation.

He says “Everyone in your organization knows what succes is. It’s the things you put on a resume: increased revenues, decreased costs, delivered a product, etc. Far fewer know what a smart failure is–i.e., the type of failures that should be congratulated,” he writes. “These are the thoughtful and well-planned projects that for some reason didn’t work. Define them so people know the acceptable boundaries within which to fail. If you don’t define them, all failure looks risky and it will kill creativity and innovation.”

Yes, failure is a big bad word in Indian IT and no wants to see failure any where..  Even in movies, we would like to see happy endings, we don’t care how much suffering hero goes through but at the end of the film we would like to see a happy ending!! We do fail many times but we try to find a reason beyond us every time isn’t it?  I know people blame the failure on some superstitious items.

From our childhood, we are actually groomed for not to fail. Parents go mad for small mistakes and criticize children instead of giving them encouraging words.  Fear of failure starts right there at home for us and we strive very hard not to fail from then on.  Right from childhood we are discouraged to do anything different and unusual and if the action ends in failure, consequences will be very disturbing.

I have come across many executives who would like to play safe at any time. They are very careful to follow CYA strategy and make sure that even if there is a failure they are safe from the impact of it. How creativity & innovation is going to thrive in this environment where managers wants to play safe and team members fear for the consequence of failure?  No wonder why India is poor in invention / innovation even though it has the highest number of  Ph.Ds next to US.

I remember we used to study about 3M and the canon in front of their office.  Every time there is a failure the cannon will blast it seems and senior executives will be worried if there is no blast for a long time. We know very well how successful 3M in terms of innovation and products.

Another reason for fear of failure is the extraordinary self-conscious nature of some people. They always imagine that the whole world is watching them and they can’t afford to slip up at any time and they try to act as if they are greatly successful. This behavior makes them not to try anything new even if they are pushed to do.

We know that fear of failure is in our DNA and it is not easy to create a workaround with something like that. Organizations could help employees to overcome these problems at least at the professional level. They should train their management how not to discourage pro-active people who are interested in taking a calculated risk. Managers should encourage risk averse people to try and do something different.

Imbibing something like this into the entire set of managers is not easy to do and it requires some commitment from top management. They should introduce rewards & recognition programs for both mangers and employees who take calculated risks and fail(!). It sounds funny but trust is not something which could be developed overnight and people will change and try taking calculated risks after seeing some of those failures are taken positively.

So what all I have written so far..

1. Continuous Learning

2. Calculated risk taking

Have a great day!


One thought on “Innovation and Fear of Failure

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s