“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly,” Robert F. Kennedy once said.
It’s a lesson we are reminded of often, yet consistently struggle to implement in business. Failure is a valuable – and necessary – step to fostering a culture of innovation. The key is putting a process in place so failure not only becomes accepted within the workplace, but is also encouraged.
Creating a Safe Space to Fail
Though technology has certainly helped to minimize the margin for error, no company with human employees is immune to risk. The problem is, too often such faults are reprimanded rather than explored. Leaders are so focused on results, they neglect innovation.
If given the opportunity, our mistakes may actually lead to useful insights. It’s important leaders understand the worth of not only celebrating mistakes, but even going so far as to inspire them. This means creating a safe space where employees are encouraged to experiment without worrying about failure. It means creating a learning culture, and measuring success within individual roles by more than just performance. Here are some steps to doing just that:
1. Change your mindset.
Look to embrace new ways of thinking. What if you were to remove the word “failure” from your company language altogether and replace it with “learning?” It may be a bit extreme, but it goes a long way in re-focusing the message you send across. The problem with the word “failure” is too many of us are afraid of it. But it’s a state of mind; we need to find ways to manage it and pursue it in a way that will lead to fresh approaches.
2. Cast a wide net of ideas.
Build a diverse team of employees from all backgrounds and experiences, and encourage members to expose themselves to a vast range of thoughts, tactics and attitudes. Offer feedback when someone brings new ideas to the table, and help them re-mold failed ideas into something more likely to succeed. Create a necessity for change, and show your team you are ready to challenge the status quo with confidence.
3. Separate innovation from core business functions.
Established companies are often hesitant to innovate because they risk interfering with core business operations. But if you find a way to divide the two, then new ideas are no longer competing with legacy concepts. This will help you embrace diversity rather than shy away from it.
4. Learn to cut your “darlings.”
One of the most challenging aspects to encouraging creativity is finding the ability to accept your losses and move on. We become attached to certain ideas, especially when a lot of time and effort was put into bringing them forward. But it’s important to be able to remove emotions from the equation and commit only to what is truly working. This is how you fail productively.
5. Accept ideas from beyond company walls.
In order to truly navigate the rapid pace of change, you must plan for it before it occurs. Look to explore ideas and trends that are not currently in your competitive space, but could quickly appear there. Ask for feedback in areas beyond your expertise.