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Aim for Smart Failure

17 April 2013

From The Harvard Business Review:

“We need more innovation around here. We need people to think more creatively and be more entrepreneurial. I’ve been saying this for the last couple years, and yet very little seems to be changing. It’s very frustrating.”

This was a recent lament from a client, a senior leader at a medium-sized professional services firm. He was frustrated that even though his organization was encouraging people at every turn to take chances on new ideas, too few were actually stepping up to do it.

. . . .

Senior leaders of the firm were relentlessly making the case that they needed to innovate or they’d lose their footing. They shared specific places where they’d missed market opportunities and were now playing catch up. A few more of these missteps, and they feared they’d lose their market leading position. The frustrating part was that, for the most part, people around the organization “got it” –yet behavior still didn’t change.

Then I asked him how he treats failure in his organization. He wasn’t sure how to answer the question. He hadn’t really ever considered it before. His first off-hand response was, “As something to be avoided.”

. . . .

Start by defining a smart failure. Everyone in your organization knows what success is. It’s the things you put on a resume: increased revenues, decreased costs, delivered a product etc. Far fewer know what a smart failure is — i.e. the type of failures that should be congratulated.

. . . .

Once you’ve defined smart failures, you want to reward them just as you do smart successes.

Link to the rest at The Harvard Business Review

PG thinks smart failures can also be beneficial for authors.

One element of a smart failure for an author is to make the failure one from which he/she can recover. This is where hidden non-compete clauses in some publishing agreements can be so destructive. Some of those clauses give the publisher the right to control what the author publishes with other publishers or self-publishes in the future and can effectively close entire genres for an author.

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4 Comments to “Aim for Smart Failure”

  1. Taking chances on new ideas is relatively easy, dealing with failures is another matter. What makes a failure smart or stupid? Is it the idea? The lessons learned from the failure? Or the degree (quantitative) of the failure?
    Failures are part of the learning cycle. You learn what not to do next time, or how to do it better in the future. I don’t think you can have success without failure. You cannot succeed in business or any other endeavor without trying (failing.) But eventually, unless you have a catastrophic failure, you’ll find the right path to success.

  2. Thank you for your commentary here, PG – a chilling warning, and very important.

  3. Maybe the reason they don’t get much response is because when someone does come forward with a new idea they’re shot down. Happens all the time – fear of change.

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