Communication & Alignment

3 Ways to Encourage Innovation through Risk-Taking

The global business strategists, Boston Consulting Group, report that risk aversion is the number 1 barrier to innovation.

Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s Corporation, was a bit more succinct in his thoughts on taking risks:

If you’re not a risk taker, you should get the hell out of business.”

3 Ways to Encourage Innovation through Risk-TakingRisk is fundamental to innovation.  Innovation will not be successful with only an innovation team or department in a business; innovation must be embraced by the entire entity to be effective and sustainable.

For creativity to flourish, managers leading at any level must encourage risk taking, test innovation results and trust in your human capital. Here are 3 ways to encourage innovation through risk-taking.

1.  Encourage managed risks – Insist upon a plan to be presented first, to ensure understanding and buy-in across the  affected organization. Know your tolerance for risk and failure in the pursuit of innovation.

Failure is an option when taking risks.  The key however, is to make failure a “learning experience”.

2.  Test your innovation results – True innovation requires thorough testing in pursuit of success.

Testing, measurement, and an accounting of what’s been learned bring measurable outcomes from successes and failures alike.

3.  Trust in your people – Entrust those in your organization to pursue new ideas on behalf of your company.  

Strive to build a culture of trust in an individual’s pursuits, but ensure safety measures are in place to safe guard against failure damaging the organization.

Can you imagine the risks that your company could take if it had a safety net in place for failure?

That is exactly what Jim Donald, CEO of Extended Stay America, offered his employees.

When Donald took over, the hotel chain was recovering from a recent bankruptcy.  Leery employees were stricken with a severe case of risk aversion. Some properties remained in disrepair, and comp stays were not offered to unhappy guests (many employees feared losing their job if they cost the company money).

Donald had several thousand “Get Out of Jail, Free” cards printed and gradually handed them out to his 9,000 + employees.

“All they had to do,” he told them, “was call in the card when they took a big risk on behalf of the company—no questions asked.”

One particular risk brought in $250,000 in Extended Stay America accommodations when an employee cold-called a film production company rumored to soon be filming in her city.

When an entire organization is encouraged to take managed risks, test its results and trust individuals with new ideas, innovation can experience growth or become sustainable.

Companies must learn from failure and assess their tolerance for risk.  Innovation momentum can be fueled with calculated risks.  A strong foundation for each of Robert’s Rules can transform a managed risk into simply the next logical step in innovation.

Category: Communication & Alignment Innovation Leadership Risk Management


About the Author: Robert Brands

Robert F. Brands is President and Founder of, Author of "Robert's Rules of Innovation" (Wiley, March, 2010), Innovation subject expert and speaker. Brands' hands-on experience in bringing innovation to ma…

Learn More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.