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!

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Human Performance Systems Thinking: This is NOT just a Buzz Word!


For anyone that knows me, I am a nut about understanding the way that organizations and people work, especially as it relates to increasing and maintaining performance.  Unfortunately many organizations of all sizes fail to see the many systemic components of this and how they work together, or they only have a cursory awareness without the clear connections and methods of helping them work together.

Whether you are a Fortune 100 company, or just started a month ago there are certain areas that need clear focus from the onset.  It is really easy to let certain things fall to the wayside, especially when you are focusing on trying to get your business off the ground and become self-sufficient.  I would like to share a few things that I believe that all businesses, work groups, teams, and divisions should think about as systemic components of your Human Performance program.

  1. Leadership needs to be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, and ensure they get the development and guidance they need to support the business and their people.  This may seem a bit of a no-brainer,  but it is a critical component of your Human Performance system.  The leaders and senior leaders are the drivers and examples (or should be) and need to focus on developing and growing as much as or more than many others.  This serves the purpose of not only increasing capability and knowledge, but I believe also helps foster humbleness by reinforcing the fact that senior leaders do not know all the answers.  How many conversations and relationships would be, or are, different because of someone showing a bit of humility?
  2. Training is not always the answer…only for new skills or refreshes on old skills.  When someone is not performing, often the first go-to is to train them again, because the assumption is that they must not know how to do whatever it is.  Ask some questions first, such as: “Did they know how to do it before?” “What has changed for them personally and/or professionally?” “Are they engaged by the task/work/project/etc.?”  Answers to these questions can assist in directing toward either a training event or other solution, which leads to some of the other points.
  3. Determine what you can and should hire for, and what you really need to and want to train for when someone joins your team.  This changes the entire system drastically in many cases.  If I hire with expectations for certain knowledge, skills, and abilities then that reduces the amount and depth of training necessary to provide.  This also changes the potential of getting production faster and with potentially more varied perspectives.
  4. Re-evaluate roles and positions regularly to determine if what they were still fits for today and tomorrow.  Some of us get bored being stuck in the same thing all the time, and want the opportunity to grow and move in to other areas.  Re-evaluation of roles and responsibilities regularly, while including those currently in the role, can go a long way to engaging employees.  Additionally, it is important to ensuring your organization is best prepared not just for where you are, but where you want to go.
  5. Ensure performance management is built in to the day-to-day, nor reserved for mid-year and end-of-year.  It has been said a million times, but it deserves reiterating.  Performance management as a practice is one of the most hated things for most managers, but the reality is if the culture of the organization and team includes coaching people for success as they take on new jobs, tasks, responsibilities, etc. and then continues providing direction and feedback after, the process goes much more smoothly.  This changes the discussions and can increase engagement and feelings of trust and rapport with leaders.
  6. Create the culture that you would be excited to be a part of, lead it, and reinforce it.  Again, this is not new, but you are the one others look at.  The way you act, or the way you don’t influences others.  The way you communicate, or don’t, influences others.  The trust and transparency you have, or don’t, influences others.  Never lose sight of the impact you really have.
  7. Management and Leadership are a job, not an afterthought.  I really can’t stress this enough.  Managers need to lead, and the activities that a manager should be doing are very different than what individual contributors should be.  This should be evaluated regularly and people who are really stronger as individual contributors should be given the opportunity to do those types of jobs at no penalty.  Additionally, managers need to be able to put the overwhelming majority of their focus on building a strong and stable team, growing them, removing barriers, and getting things done.  If you are not doing these activities at least 85% of the time, you are NOT a manager.  You simply have a title.

Your Human Performance System is critical, and very real.  It is also very complex, and understanding and working with it can be difficult.  But that does not lessen the importance or necessity of working on it constantly. It is dynamic and needs constant focus, and many times adjustments and change.  Are you focusing in these areas?  How?  What else would you add to this list?  I’d love to hear your comments!

Engaged with Gamification!


Many years ago I started to explore the concept of gamification, which is essentially the use of games and game theory to accomplish some other task.  Originally, the research and information I found talked about Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) that provided research on leadership, innovation, and communication skills and gave some indication that there was potential for leadership development and assessment using these methods.  To me, this was an amazing and wonderful prospect!  However, I never quite got the traction behind any initiatives to use these methods (insert sad face here).

Well, not long ago I was contacted by the CEO of an awesome new company called OfficeVibe.  And guess what…they focus on workplace gamification!  Not in the “let’s-get-together-and-hack-and-slash-goblins-and-build-guilds” kind of games, but rather with an ingenious engagement tool that brings multiple activities in one place worth points, and that encourage each of us to be better personally and professionally.  It runs similar to platforms such as Yammer that connect users via business email addresses, or even using their extant Yammer account.  I think it’s brilliant, and wanted to share it with everyone I can, so please check them out at www.officevibe.com.

Now, to make this even better, today I received a fantastic newsletter with a wonderful infographic about employee engagement from OfficeVibe that I also wanted to share.  Enjoy, and please stop by and check them out!  This is an amazing tool to meet many needs that many of us have today related to the engagement issues we all know we have and that the infographic beautifully illustrates!

10 Shocking Stats About Employee EngagementInfographic crafted with love by Officevibe, the corporate team building and employee engagement platform.

We’re not starting from scratch!


Image from onefte.com of faceless stickfigure making speech about getting paid for work.

I have to say, this is one of my favorites!  Too often, we forget that the workplace is a voluntary environment, and if it isn’t working, find something that is or find a way to make it work.  Money isn’t generally the answer to an unhappy workplace (although, being paid what you’re worth doesn’t hurt!) so look for what else is wrong and try to fix it.

Employees Desire a Higher Sense of Accountability in the Workplace, Survey Finds


Not that this should be a complete shock to anyone, but employees generally want to do the right thing, and what is best for the organization they work for.  A recent survey by Fierce, Inc. digs in to this topic and provides some clarity in to a very important topic.  Empower, educate, and engage your employees!  It is considerably easier than you think…just listen!

Employees Desire a Higher Sense of Accountability in the Workplace, Survey Finds.