Man, tough audience. But very much in keeping with some the best advice on innovation. Which is, you can’t have innovation without some failure along the way. It’s inevitable.
That advice is both true, and glib. Innovation consultant Jeffrey Phillips catches the right spirit when he says:
Another thing about “failure” is that we try to kid ourselves that failure is a “good thing” a learning opportunity. Well, not in most cultures.
This is the reality of innovation. It’s tough. The more disruptive an innovation, the tougher it gets. And we’re in the middle of seeing how it plays right now with Apple iPad and Google Buzz.
Let me ask you this: Do you personally think either the iPad or Buzz will be guaranteed successes for their respective companies? Be honest now.
My guess is you’re like most of us: I don’t know.
Well, truth be known, neither do Apple and Google. But they’ve got a history you’d bet on.
Apple and Google: Big Time Failures, Big Time Innovations
Both Apple and Google have had their share of duds in the market:
Obviously, these companies do not have a perfect record of successful innovations.
But they do have a record of pressing through failures and continuing to roll out innovations. In fact, they’re consistently ranked the best in the world:
Does Your Company Really Want Radical Innovation?
In Psychology Today, a professor at the University of Michigan gets to the issue:
From vaccines to Velcro, many inventions were spawned from accidents, seeming failures. But when Fiona Lee, psychology and business professor at the University of Michigan, explored which conditions help people experiment with novel ideas, she uncovered an interesting phenomenon: “Managers talk a lot about innovation and being on the cutting edge, but on an individual level, many people are not willing to try new things.”
What’s holding us back? A fear of failure.
Think about your own reaction to the question of whether the iPad and Google Buzz will be successful. It’s easy enough to be uncertain as an observer. But imagine if you have to put shareholder capital in to it, affect your brand in the market and risk some career trajectories?
I will often read of the importance of taking risks and accepting some level of failure for companies to be innovative. This is very true. But it can be glib to summarily dismiss companies for not “getting it”. When they’re made up of people like you and me who possess ordinary…well, human characteristics.
Because how do you know when you’re iterating toward a true high-value innovation, or you’re just spinning your wheels? I’ll turn again to Jeffrey Phillips:
As Edison and countless others have demonstrated, you rarely get it right the first time, and if you are stymied by early failure, then you’ll never find and implement the best ideas. Innovation, as has been pointed out by individuals with far more to say about it than me, will create some failures. Your job isn’t to avoid the failures, since you can’t predict them in advance, but to reduce the cost and impact of the inevitable failures. In other words, keep moving.
As I said before, I can’t know for sure whether the Apple iPad or Google Buzz will be successful. But kudos to those companies for rolling out innovations that might fail. And in case you’re wondering whether allowing employees some latitude to fail is worth it, check out the 5-year stock performance of Apple and Google versus the S&P 500:
Let’s take this one out with the great speech from Teddy Roosevelt:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
(Cross-posted @I’m Not Actually a Geek )