Leverage the lessons of failure

Children can teach us if we remain open to reminders. Take failure, for instance. Toddlers stumble and fall regularly. They clip sharp corners, bruise foreheads on low-hanging objects, gain speed, lose balance and topple to the ground. Then they get up and try again. “Most people are more frightened of failure than of mediocrity – it should be the reverse,” argues creativity author, Daniel Pink. “Failure is a broken leg — painful, but easily fixed. Mediocrity is a creeping disease — invisible and insidious — that disables so completely that there’s often no recovery.” Booz & Co’s 2011 Global Innovation 1000 study found that the corporate world continues to pay lip service to the essential role of setbacks in successful innovation. A tolerance for failure in the innovation process was ranked lowest of the key cultural attributes of innovative organisations. “This finding, which contradicts some of the academic research on the subject, raises serious questions about companies’ real appetite for risk-taking in their innovation practices,” the authors warn. The six-year study that produced The Innovator’s DNA identified a willingness to fail as a critical trait of innovative leaders. They take smart risks. “For innovators – and innovative companies alike – mistakes are nothing to be ashamed of,” the authors say. “They are an expected cost of doing business.” Innovative leaders, or course, don’t try to fail. “They just know that when a company tries out lots of new ideas, some won’t work,” the authors add. “But they’re smart enough to recognise the difference between good and bad failures.”

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