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IBM: Early failure is a necessary investment in innovation

I’m reading Switch: How to change things when change is hard by the Heath brothers and in one of the middle chapters called Grow your people there’s a very important lesson on the topic of the fear of failure when provoking change. Here are some thoughts:

Since everything is hard before it is easy, in order to create change we have to be able to move people to a different set of behaviors and most of the time this is where the problem exists because people fear situations that are unknown. To keep people motivated in the long road to change, you need to create the expectation of failure.

According to the Heath brothers learning from failure begins with having the right mindset. A person with a is more likely to view failure as learning as opposed to one who has a fixed mindset and prefers routine tasks, therefore we must work to cultivate a growth mindset in your organization.

I think this where it all starts because as humans we’ve been programmed to think that ‘failure is wrong’ when really and so we’re taught to ignore the middle part of the process where all the learning takes place. The middle is the journey, where the ups and downs happen and you need the will to break through.

As the Economist recently mentioned, the key to the success to any change initiative is that first:


Leaders of organizations should allow their innovators to be scientists and tell our teams we don’t expect 100 percent success in early experiments. The important thing is to learn from failed experiments early in the process and use those lessons to map out a path to success.


For the purpose of credibility here’s a story from the book that I think is worth highlighting:

*Failing is often the best way to learn and because of that early failure is a kind of necessary investment. A famous story about IBM makes the point well. In the 1960’s, an executive at IBM made a decision that ended up losing the company $10 million. The CEO of IBM, Tom Watson, summoned the offending executive to his office at corporate headquarters. The journalist Paul B. Carroll described what happened next:


As the executive cowered, Watson asked, “Do you know why I’ve asked you here?”

The man replied, “I assume I’m here so you can fire me.”

Watson looked surprised.

“Fire you?” he asked. “Of course not. I just spent $10 million educating you.”


I’m almost finished reading the book and will post any other thoughts I think are worth mentioning.

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