Innovation – the power of continuous improvement in business

2nd December 2016 Industry Training Solutions

how failure helps a business innovate and change

As a father of three children, I have seen first-hand the importance of play and failure when it comes to learning. It’s like time stands still as children immerse themselves in a fantasy world where imagination rules.

As we grow older, we seem to accumulate emotions based on experiences. Most of us develop a fear of failure and a fear of rejection. Why do we tend to be so scared to take the step and explore new and unknown frontiers? As human beings we have a fundamental drive to explore, it is in innate, but why are we then held back by a perception that failure is bad?

One of the reasons I started thinking about this was when I discovered the one thing Albert Einstein, Elon Musk and Walt Disney have in common – they stumbled on their way to the top. Albert Einstein was considered an academic failure before being regarded as one of history’s brightest minds; Walt Disney was knocked by studio after studio before establishing what one of the biggest brands in entertainment today. Then we have Musk, the most recent example of this,  who has dubbed his hit and miss rate in his rise as the ‘art of failing successfully’ – a concept centred on how each set back informed his eventual success.

We don’t look at these people as failures, but rather admire their achievements and tell ourselves how amazing these people are. But I beg to differ - these people aren’t that special. Understand me right here, they all had tremendous talent, yes. But what really set them apart from the rest of us that have great ideas is the fact they had a crack at it. They failed over and over again, and kept persisting, until one day - they made it, after failing ‘successfully’.

So what can we as business owners learn from these examples? What are the key takeaways that could help innovation to flourish in your business? The key is in failing fast (aka incremental experiments and improvements) and doing it cost-effectively. I have experienced this in a business that grew from a few staff to a global enterprise. When the business was small, innovation was part of everything we did, driven by necessity to survive and the need to conserve cash and increase revenue.

As the business grew and matured, the culture and the need for processes to enable scalability became important. The fact that we had monopoly on the technology also played a part in complacency when it came to innovation, we do need see the need for risk or change.  Forbes has highlighted this in the past, dubbing complacency the killer of progress.

When observing other companies going through a similar experience of growth, this pattern is very common. In larger companies it can be even harder, especially if a culture exists whereby failure is not an option – but risk and failure are typically seen as integral to change, to innovation, and to growth.

So how do we overcome this? Well, back to the children in the fantasy world. One of the key reasons children learn so fast is that they don’t have this fear of failure. They are also not afraid to go outside their comfort zone and explore. If a business culture exists where innovation is challenging for these reasons, the fastest way to break-free and find motivation and inspiration for innovation is to allow ourselves to become children again.

Your team needs to see that there is room for creativity and a reason for it in their routine. It is important to create a culture of experimentation and innovation, one where ideas are rewarded and failure is seen as a natural part of the process.

 If we as individuals and business owners can overcome the fear of failure and fear of rejection, new possibilities will emerge and enable innovation, create true value, and create business growth.

If you want to change the game for you and your business, TAFE Queensland's workshops can help you better understand your business potential. Or you can find out more about me and my mentoring services.

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