Today’s Twitter Gem is courtesy of Kristin Woodman (@kmwoodman), tweeting a link to a Harvard Business Review article by Doug Sundheim titled “To Increase Innovation, Take the Sting Out of Failure“.

Sundheim makes the point that encouraging innovation needs to be accompanied with a more lenient and flexible approach to dealing with failure, and in his words:

Innovation efforts are risky and can (by definition) fail. And failure can sting. So if you haven’t figured out how to take some of the sting out of failure, you won’t get innovation.

Sudenheim suggests the following approach:

  1. Define smart failures – i.e. the type of failures that should be congratulated;
  2. Reward smart failures in addition to successes;
  3. make your approach to risk taking transparent

There aren’t (unfortunately) that many articles promoting a sensible and productive approach to failure. I mentioned in an earlier post two other articles dealing with this topic:

In “When a Project Fails, Who Does Your Company Blame?”, Amy Edmondson makes a number of interesting observations, touching the heart of our blame-related culture.

Amy argues that there are three types of failures:

  1. Failures originating from process deviations, due to operator’s incompetency, lack of attention or (in more extreme cases) deliberate deviation.
  2. Failures originating from system breakdowns due to inherent process complexities, execution challenges, or process inadequacies.
  3. Failures originating from failed experimentations, due primarily to the high than usual level of uncertainty associated with such endeavours. Examples would include exploratory experiments and hypothesis testing.

In “Failure Isn’t Enough“‘ Joshua Gans is addressing issues of innovation in research projects. He suggests, just like Doug Sundheim, that innovation does not happen enough and that if we could soften the failure consequences for individual researchers, more risky experiments would take place.

Should you re-consider your attitude to failure?

Think abou it!

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: New PM Articles for the Week of January 21 – 27 | The Practicing IT Project Manager

  2. Yup, failure you could say is an ironic aspect of whenever you try to do something new, otherwise known as learning or jumping into the unknown. Fun, fun, fun…


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