Leave room for trial and error

What happens when you cross a scientist with a CEO? You might produce someone like Gary Loveman, CEO, President and chairman of Caesars Entertainment, owner of Harrah’s global resort network. A strong advocate of rigorous experimentation and small-scale testing before scaling up into company-wide initiatives, Loveman can’t understand why so many companies resist this scientific approach to innovation. In Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, Financial Times journalist Tim Harford argues that it’s only through trial and error that we find answers to complex problems, yet it isn’t part of our language for how to succeed, especially in business. “Failure is not only common and unpredictable, it’s healthy”, Harford says. “There are good reasons to believe that more successful economies play host to more failures. Just compare the astonishing failure rate of Silicon Valley firms with the situation of the Big three in Detroit, who seem to be in a perpetual state of slow-motion failure without ever quite leaving the economic stage.” Failure is not only healthy, it’s essential for survival, science writer Steven Johnson argues in Where Good Ideas Come From: A natural history of innovation. “Innovative environments thrive on useful mistakes, and suffer when the demands of quality control overwhelm them,” Johnson says. “Big organisations like to follow perfectionist regimes…devoted to eliminating error from the conference room or the assembly line, but it’s no accident that one of the mantras of the Web startup world is fail faster.” It’s not that mistakes are the goal, he adds, “but those mistakes are an inevitable step on the path to true innovation”.

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