Managers, There Are 3 Types of Failure. And Only One You Should Praise To Drive Innovation

The organizations that no longer exist are the ones that failed because they missed the future. Why did they miss the future? Because they were late to the party or got disrupted by an upstart. They never led, thus got disrupted. Ironically , organizations that fail operate with a fear of failure. Internally, it’s this mindset that kills any chance at disrupting themselves!

In order for any established business to disrupt itself it will have to challenge the status quo; it will have to take chances and invest time and resources in innovation. No way around it. Managers must get comfortable with experimentation, and not knowing if something will work or not; because there is no innovation without experimentation.

Why don’t people take more chances, stick their head out, take risks head on, take on more challenging work? One is comfort, and the other is fear of failure. In general, there are four fears that hold most of us back: fear of the messy unknown, fear of being judged, fear of the first step, and fear of losing control.

Managers must understand that innovation and failure are inseparable twins, one goes with the other. But in most workplaces failure is a means to getting fired and being seen as less competent; not what most people want on their resumes. So what Managers have to do is nurture and reward the right type of failure, the one that leads to new knowledge and lessons; a driver of growth and innovation.

There are 3 types of failures: preventable, complex and intelligent.

  • Preventable: These are the types of failures that could be prevented ahead of time; the ones you should avoid at all costs. For example, veering off a well defined process when it’s become standard operating procedure.
  • Complex: These types of failures are the result of system complexity and are not completely preventable. When a combination of needs, people and problems has never occurred before, some small failures must be expected.
  • Intelligent: This is the type of failure you want to nurture and reward, the type that drives innovation. They provide new knowledge and insight than can help a team to come up with an innovation and help the company grow.

Managers, write the following down and frame it: Any failure resulting from honest effort and thoughtful experimentation is what drives innovation; and should be considered praiseworthy. 

It’s failure if you and your team don’t learn from it

We all experience some form of fear. Personally, the only thing I’ve feared is not knowing and not trying. People who are not wired to learn and challenge themselves struggle with getting outside their comfort zone, always sticking to the same routine over and over again.

This is not how you grow.

Organizations are the same. They either evolve or stay the same. Change is the only constant, and its motor is innovation. As an organization, you either drive change or are outpaced by it. And any established organization that sets out to innovate will find itself in discovery mode, and the faster they fail the faster they’ll succeed.

To drive innovation in your organization you have to nurture and reward intelligent failure. Leaders must create a culture that drives innovation, and managers must create an environment where everyone can drop their self-protective defenses and approach work with curiosity and a desire to learn from failure. Remember, it’s failure if you and your team don’t learn from it.

Great leaders enable others to perform at their best. And people don’t become their best when they’re punished for trying new things, people won’t grow if they’re unable to evolve, they won’t bring and become their best if they’re trapped. With that said, as a leader your job is to eliminate all obstacles to progress and create an environment where people can be their best.

Bottom line: Failure is not worth much if we don’t learn from it. So, Fail better. Fail forward. Fail fast.

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