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.
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.”
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.