The Uncomfortable Catalyst of Innovation: Getting comfortable with failure in a world focused on removing failure.


In a world of Lean Six Sigma, TQM, and other error and failure removal and reduction systems we need to understand a new perspective: Failure is okay. Understanding that failure is a part of innovation is critical. Many of the systems we use every day around the globe in some of the most important organizations require removing failure, but the key is understanding at what point this should take place. When we review performance in any organization, there are stages of the life of business products, services, and processes we need to be aware of. The first stage is Creation & Innovation. The second stage is Growth and Maturation. The third stage is Retirement and Reincarnation. While these are individual stages as I see them, they are not mutually exclusive. They work together, and often work in cycle. Very few systems today work in a purely linear fashion. Therefore we see the Retirement and Reincarnation stage being driven by the Creation & Innovation stage, or we see the cycling back through the stages. You notice that at no time is there a stagnant period of simple maintenance; there is constant motion. Maintenance in today’s market is equal to death for most products and services. So what do each of these look like?

Creation & Innovation

In this stage, we see the birth of ideas and hopefully the beginning of an innovation, or something that is not only creative but useful. The important component of this particular phase that is only recently being picked up by even some of the largest and ostensibly most important organizations out there, is the concept of failure. During this phase we need to be comfortable with failure, and actually encourage it. Of course, this does not mean just any failure, this means successful failure. Failure that provides lessons and helps us achieve the next big success. If we make mistakes and learn nothing, this is truly failure. Which means we need to create an environment that encourages failure, measures for it, rewards it, and provides room for improvement from it.

Growth and Maturation

During this phase, the focus is on taking the product, process, or service from the beginning idea to a thriving money maker. It means also continuing to grow and evolve, while being able to provide it at an even more efficient and effective pace and quality. During this phase is where the focus on removing errors and mistakes comes in. However, part of the key is that we have an established thing that we are focusing on improving through error and mistake reduction.

Retirement and Reincarnation

At some point we need to be aware of the need to revitalize and reincarnate what we are doing. Is the product or service still necessary? Is it still viable? Is it still competitive? Does the process still work, or do we need something new? These are questions that keep us moving forward and help determine whether it is time to retire a particular product or service, or if we can revitalize and reincarnate it as something new. Again, during this time we see a need for the creativity and innovation from the first phase, which is where we actually begin to cycle back to the beginning and start over.

While this process seems simplistic, it really seems to me that this is the way business today can best be summed up. Most important throughout the phases is understanding that sometimes we need failure and sometimes we need to reduce failure. Take a look at your own organization, and please leave your comments and thoughts below!

About these ads

One thought on “The Uncomfortable Catalyst of Innovation: Getting comfortable with failure in a world focused on removing failure.

  1. Chris, I think you did great summing up the need for change in organizations to remain viable and competitive in today’s marketplace. I think the biggest roadblock for many leaders is the fear of risk, that fear of failure which hold’s them back. These steps are great for those leaders to look inward and self-assess what strengths they can play on while constructively confronting the weaknesses holding them back from bigger and better ideas, roles, etc.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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 )

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s