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Innovate to Thrive- Part 2; No Risk…No Innovation

All Star Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins led Major League Baseball in 2009 with a lofty batting average of .365. In second place is the amazing Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners, batting .352. This means that Mauer fails to hit 62.7 percent of the time. Ichiro fails  64 percent of the time. But failure is not what they’re thinking about when they’re up at the plate. They have a plan to execute and they work out a quality at-bat.

Similarly, there is a success ratio when it comes to Innovation. One recent example: a study on the grocery business pegs the success rate for new product entries at 1:100.[i] One percent. A company’s appetite for failure during difficult financial times can shrivel with the realization that Innovation means “outcome uncertainty.”

It took Thomas Edison 6000 tries to perfect and get to the incandescent light bulb.

Not every idea can, or will, be a winner. Not every Eureka! moment pans out. Consequently, innovation – and the budgets to support it – become big, fat, juicy targets. Champions of organizational Innovation must have, and encourage, a tolerance for failure and enthusiasm for risk taking.

Without risk, there can be no Innovation. In a tough economic environment, the willingness to take risk – given the cost of failure – can wither. But one can’t pull the plug on an idea too soon.

An essential part of this dialogue is the element of trust. In my experience, teams perform best when they trust that failure will not result in punitive measures. Fear of failure can kill Innovation. Your team will be afraid to act, decide, move forward and do the work it’s capable of. Stasis.

Remember, too, that new ideas and technologies take time to gestate in the marketplace and take root with end-users. Hybrid cars? How would they have fared in the late 1990s, when energy was relatively cheap and SUVs owned the roads of America?

Thomas Alva Edison was a failure. It has been said that he “went back to the drawing board” more than 6,000 times before finding the right plant to produce a carbonized filament for his incandescent light bulb.

Six thousand times. Do you have that kind of innovative stamina?

It’s been said that Risk + Experimentation (+ Failure) = Improved Environment for Innovation. Put another way, Innovation = Creativity x Risk Taking.

Innovation is an experiment of sorts. It requires a culture of risk, opportunity and challenge. Moreover, for an organization to benefit from innovation, leaders and team members alike must welcome – and grow from – failure.

Rather than view failure as inherently bad, successful innovation requires that executives and teams commit to learning from each experiment gone bad — and incorporate those teachings into the next endeavor.

The successes and failures borne of innovation experimentation perpetuate innovation. When strategies are emerging, innovators test their hypotheses and gather information to continue forward with their ideas. Whether the innovation is a consumer product, a software application, or an internal process for an existing business enterprise or workflow strategy, the question remains: How will the idea resonate with the target audience or user? What costs are reasonable? Can the audience (consumers, manufacturers, employees) be convinced to shift well-established habits to embrace The New?

Because of a high failure rate, organizations pursuing the practice of Innovation must have a tolerance for failure. Not every idea will win. But each failure must be perceived as valuable in the trial-and-error process as a team seeks improvement. Tolerance for failure must be encouraged, as well as enthusiasm for risk-taking. Without risk, there can be no reward.

To create a culture of innovation, organizations should:

– Encourage well-reasoned risk-taking. The pursuit of innovation isn’t some fool-hardy flight of fancy. Encourage — or 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.

– Test. True innovation requires thorough testing in pursuit of success. Testing, measurement, and an accounting of what’s been learned — even in failure — brings measurable outcomes from successes and failures alike.

– Trust. Do you – as a CEO or team leader – trust your people to pursue new ideas on behalf of the company? Build a culture of trust in the individual’s pursuits — so long as safety-measures are in place to safe guard against failure damaging the organization.

Most of all, avoid letting a failed concept kill your team’s motivation. Every idea should be given positive acknowledgment, every failure should be studied for “what went wrong,” and every success should receive appropriate reward. By providing your team with a culture of Innovation, their risk-taking abilities will improve. And, as was the case with Mr. Edison, they eventually will see the light borne from their successful innovations.

No Risk, No Innovation…

TIPS: Risk taking

Robert Brands is the founder of InnovationCoach.com, Innovation Speaker and the author of “Robert’s Rules of Innovation”: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival, with Martin Kleinman,  published March, 2010 by Wiley ( more information on Inspire & Initiate or any of the other imperatives visit or look for Wiley’s Robert’s Rules of Innovation (ISBN 978-0470596999). The book contains assessment tools, tips, in depth chapters  on the importance of Intellectual Property, working with multinational teams and more.

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