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Innovation: Enough with the Freedom to Fail

By Scott D. Anthony

Pro: Excuses, Excuses

I've seen it happen all too frequently. A manager opens up a review meeting about a project that is clearly struggling by saying, "Remember, we’re innovating here. We should expect to fail."

Too frequently, that’s code for something far more ominous. Give the manager truth serum, and you would hear, "I screwed up" or "I didn’t do my homework."

There's no doubt that innovation entails risk and randomness, and that sometimes people are going to do all the right things but get bad results. We should celebrate people who take well-thought-out, calculated risks that don't pan out. That is not failure but important learning on the road to organizational success, as resources can be redirected to projects with higher potential.

But that doesn't excuse stupidity and sloppiness.

The best innovators approach uncertain problems thoughtfully. They seek to learn as much as possible from whatever data they can get their hands on. They use that information to design and execute well-constructed experiments around the most critical unknowns in their plans. Learning from those experiments informs their next steps.

Famous football coach Vince Lombardi once said, "If you can accept losing, you can't win." So, too, with innovation. You need to demand—and expect—success, but understand that success sometimes means deciding not to proceed with a project. If an innovator reaches that end point by smart and careful action, celebrate. If he or she reaches it any other way, well, fire away.

Read the full article on Bloomberg BusinessWeek

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