NVTC is inviting members to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. Moira Lethbridge of member company Lethbridge & Associates shares her insights below.

MLethbridge 1

How Companies are Succeeding Using Failure to Increase Creativity and Innovation

Recently I was invited to a Failure Fest.  The event sold out in 48 hours and 400 people attended. It was a celebration of failure as a mark of leadership, innovation and risk-taking in pushing the boundaries of what is possible in scaling ideas from pilots to global programs. I also downloaded an app, Failure Games, which is designed to get the user out of their comfort zone and get rid of the nagging feeling that “I might fail.”  What is all this ‘embracing failure’ about?

Failure can be the beginning of creativity and innovation. 

Companies like Google, Amazon, and several nonprofits are acknowledging, embracing and taking advantage of failure to increase creativity and innovation.

What does this mean? 

Organizations want to learn from their failures to improve products and services and increase revenue and profit. Failure is one barrier to achieving these results.

We hate to fail and this impacts our ability to learn from failure. We think of failure as completely unacceptable because it may hurt our credibility and chances for promotion. Most managers are incentivized by successes and punished for failures, reinforcing the avoidance of acknowledging failures. They also do not have a clear understanding of how to learn from failure.

The avoidance of failure therefore becomes a barrier to increasing creativity and innovation. In order to innovate and be creative, you have to have the possibility of failing.

What brought them to it?

For-profit and nonprofit companies identified that cultural and organizational barriers were getting in the way of innovating.  Organizations want to improve from both a technical (software rollout flopped) and interpersonal (managers avoiding giving feedback to employees) view. They realized the consequences of not having an open failure environment: unreported failures and missed lessons learned.

Why are companies helping their employees make failure productive and even fun?

  • To increase employee engagement and productivity.
    Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota built a psychologically safe environment to reduce medical errors that frames the work accurately, embraces the messenger, acknowledges limits, invites participation, sets boundaries and holds people accountable.
  • To increase revenue and profit and transform their company.
    IBM started ‘ValuesJam’.  This experiment allowed employees to share their concerns and ideas online for 72 hours.  From this feedback they determined how the company was failing and succeeding with its employees and customers and agreed on its values and what was worth preserving and what needed to change.
  • To differentiate themselves from their competitors.
    Kurante.com, Plan International USA and TechChange.org hosted a Fail Festival to celebrate failure as a mark of leadership, innovation and risk-taking in pushing the boundaries of what it possible in scaling ideas from pilots to global programs.
  • To have employees learn faster by learning to fail intelligently.
    Google incentivizes their employees with dinners and weekend getaways to fail fast and share lessons learned.
  • To let employees know that failure is nothing to be ashamed of.
    DoSomething.org hosts a Pink-Boa Failfest every quarter that reinforces their message, “It’s OK to fail.”

failure is the key to success

How are companies embracing failure to increase creativity and innovation?

Leaders are creating environments for allowing failures to surface and be examined.  They do this by first defining what failure means and looks like in their organization.  They differentiate blameworthy and praiseworthy failures.  Leaders allow for openness, curiosity, patience and tolerance of ambiguity. An example is Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis where leaders developed a ‘blameless reporting’ system to encourage employees to reveal medical errors immediately as well as other information that can be used to deconstruct the failure and learn from it.

Companies use proactive feedback as a way to identify many types of failures.  IBM used ValuesJam to get data that help them identify failures. General Electric has an 800 number for all products and customers can report problems, with a call center available 24/7/365.  They receive almost 3 million calls a year.

DoSomething.org (www.dosomething.org) hosts a Pink Boa Failure Fest every quarter. It’s completely off the record and anybody can join: interns, employees, board of directors. Two people are chosen and put on a big pink feather boa. For ten minutes they explain their goal and its history, what happened, what they learned personally, and what the company learned. They finish with a two-minute question and answer period.  DoSomething.org does this to say failure is nothing to be ashamed of.

Google encourages their employees in many training courses to take risks, and failures are OK, as long as they fail early during the prototype or experimentation stage. They also have awards for projects that failed to celebrate taking risks and learning. Google has an analysis process for determining what went wrong and lessons learned to apply to the next project.

My blog series will focus on increasing innovation; what gets in the way, how to remove those barriers, and practical examples for increasing creativity and innovation in your organization.

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NVTC’s Greater Washington Technology CFO Awards ceremony is fast approaching! If you want to learn more about the event, which includes the region’s best and brightest tech professionals, check out our video below, created for us by g14media.

Last year’s awards were a blast and honored John Burton of Updata Partners with the Michael G. Devine Hall of Fame Award. Notable past honorees of the award include Steve Case and Ted Leonsis (pictured in the above video).

This year, the categories are:

  • Public Company CFO of the Year
  • Private Company CFO of the Year
  • Emerging Growth CFO of the Year (revenue less than $50 million)
  • Large Company CFO of the Year (revenue more than $1 billion)
  • Financier of the Year

Check back soon for a list of finalists, and register today!

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When Vision is Not Enough

March 18th, 2014 | Posted by Allison Gilmore in Member Blog Posts - (Comments Off)

NVTC is inviting members to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. Kathy Stershic of member company Dialog Research & Communications shares her insights below.


A clear organizational vision is vital to moving your people in the same direction to meet strategic goals. Attaining a vision supposes a lot of things going right along your journey, or at least being somewhat in your control – but what happens when inconvenient realities make things go, well, differently?

Many of today’s leaders simply lack the time, bandwidth or vantage point to think beyond the near term. Yet never-ending change makes it increasingly important to examine macro forces that can impact your customers’ environments, and to prepare yourself for flexible decision-making in an unexpected future.

Scenario planning is a powerful but often overlooked tool in strategic planning. Scenarios don’t define the most likely future – they map uncertainties and explore alternative futures, so you are better prepared for both.

While employed by organizations as large as Royal Dutch Shell, the World Bank and the Military, even smaller to mid-sized businesses can incorporate at least some foundational work into their planning efforts.

The biggest premise in scenario planning is don’t assume the future will closely mirror the present. [Consider the unanticipated changes that resulted from the 1970s oil shock, the ripple effects of the 9/11 attacks or even the recent Target data breach.] Start outside-in. Invest in truly understanding your customer’s world – what are they planning for? What external forces must they anticipate or react to? Such forces can be the root of opportunities, surprises, or unforeseen crises.

Then shift to inside-out thinking to assess the implications of those external forces on your core business practices, organizational capacity, culture and current strategies. Develop a set of plausible ‘what if’ scenarios grounded in your customers’ contextual environment. Explore postures such as…

  • Does our current [intended] strategy hold up in each scenario? What are our strengths and weaknesses in each situation?
  • In 3 years, will there still be a fit between what we do and the customer environment?
  • Who or what kind of businesses will be successful in each scenario?
  • Can we be reasonably sure a certain change will occur? What could the outcome of that change be on our customers?  And what then is truly uncertain? What should we do or not do in each scenario?

Brainstorm, be creative, and stretch your thinking. A recent customer of mine reacted to our example scenarios as “mind bending” for the entrenched organizational culture. Generate options and test them against your scenarios. You can use a variety of tools – from team brainstorming workshops to highly structured analytical modeling.

Remember this is about plausibility, not prediction. But with this more informed perspective, you can design a strategic roadmap with enough flexibility to navigate unexpected turns. Then go for it.

For further reading: http://hbr.org/2013/05/living-in-the-futures/ar/1


Contributed by Kathy Stershic, Principal Consultant, Dialog Research & Communications

www.dialogrc.com, kstershic@dialogrc.com

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Let your voice be heard! The online portion of Destination Innovation, a yearly event highlighting technology advancements emerging from our region, is almost over. This year, in addition to an exhibition, networking, industry speakers and innovation pitches, twenty-nine innovative companies have been competing in four categories for online votes on the Capital Business website in round one of the competition.

In weeks one, two and three, voters selected their favorite companies in the Social, Commerce and Government ategories. Voting is now open for the final category: Security! Voting will be open until March 21.

The top four companies in each category will then exhibit and compete during the Destination Innovation event on April 2, 2014 at The Washington Post headquarters. The event is presented by the NVTC Technology Innovations Committee and Capital Business, and features keynote addresses by Michael Chasen of SocialRadar and Carly Fiorina of Carly Fiorina Enterprises.

Pick your favorite company and let your voice be heard!

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There’s t-minus 10 days until spring, which means that there’s less than a month until Destination Innovation on April 2! The yearly event is presented by the NVTC Technology Innovations Committee and Capital Business, and highlights technology advancements emerging from our region.

This year, in addition to an exhibition, networking, industry speakers and innovation pitches, an exciting new element has been added: online voting! Twenty-nine innovative companies will compete in four categories for online votes on the Capital Business website in round one of the competition. In weeks one and two, voters selected their favorite companies in the Social and Commerce Categories. Voting is now open for this week’s category: Government! Voting will be open until March 14.

Online voting for the remaining category, Security, will take place 3/17 – 3/21.

The top four companies in each category will then exhibit and compete during the Destination Innovation event on April 2, 2014 at The Washington Post headquarters.

Pick your favorite company and let your voice be heard!

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Get the Most Out of Your NVTC Membership!

March 7th, 2014 | Posted by Ann Corcoran in About NVTC | Membership - (Comments Off)

NVTC provides members with many valuable benefits and programs. The best way to realize the full value of your membership investment is to take advantage of all your membership benefits.  Here are just a few ideas to help you achieve ROI on your membership:

Signature Events: NVTC’s signature events draw hundreds of top technology executives and feature well-known and relevant speakers from all industry sectors. If you want exposure, this is where you need to be!

Committees: NVTC’s committees focus on specific industries or interests and offer increased brand exposure, leadership, presentation and panel opportunities, as well as professional development for your employees. Comprehensive and content-driven, committees’ smaller scale provide ample opportunities for efficient networking. Best of all, participation in NVTC committees is FREE for members!

Branding and Business Development: NVTC offers sponsorship and advertising opportunities that enable you to brand and market your business. Reach thousands of technology decision-makers or target a very specific market or industry sector. Contact Michele Weatherly at mweatherly@nvtc.org for help creating your personalized advertising/sponsorship plan.

Member Connections: NVTC members have access to a detailed online business-to-business directory to help you find business contacts and potential partners. Offering complete contact information of all other NVTC members, the members-only directory is one of the most valuable tools in your membership. In addition, the NVTC Marketplace online directory provides NVTC members a quick and simple way to find service providers within the membership.

Workforce and Recruiting: Every NVTC member company can post FREE job listings and receive FREE access to Monster’s database of more than 800,000 veteran resumes through the NVTC Veteran Employment Initiative, an extremely valuable tool for recruiting veterans into our technology community. In addition, NVTC provides resources and training to promote best practices in veteran recruitment, training and retention, connections with the region’s academic institutions, and a Workforce and Education Committee dedicated to helping member companies recruit, educate, and retain a world class workforce.

Member Benefits and Discounts: NVTC provides member benefit programs and services that can save your company money on business insurance, employee benefits and retirement plans, member-to-member discounts through Member Advantage, office supplies and shipping services. In addition, small technology and associate member companies (1-9 employees) have access to FREE conference room space at NVTC headquarters located in the CIT building in Herndon. Contact me at acorcoran@nvtc.org for more information.

Public Policy Advocacy: The voice for the region’s tech community for over a decade, NVTC is front and center in Richmond to advocate for issues that are important to members and to advance a pro-business, pro-technology agenda.  NVTC’s full-time advocacy team can offer counsel on your policy objectives and help you connect to policymakers.

News and Information: NVTC’s publications, including The Voice of Technology magazine and weekly member eNewsletter, keep members informed about NVTC and technology industry news and trends.  Through our partnership with Gartner, members also get access to reports and webinars on key trends and predictions for IT professionals and service providers.

Communications and Public Relations: NVTC can help you share your company’s news or expertise. Update your member profile with the latest on your business’ areas of expertise so we can help connect you to reporters who contact us for stories. Submit your news for publication on the member news section of the NVTC website. Or consider sharing your insights as a guest blogger right here on the NVTC blog.

All NVTC members are invited to join us at New Member Orientation on March 20 to learn more about these and the many other benefits of membership.

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