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Innovation Failures are the Recipe for Success!

Jun 27, 2008
"One must be God to distinguish successes from failures" Anton Chekov.

Most businesses continue to struggle by approaching highly dynamic markets with risk aversion as their primary guide. Yet, in recent times, the organisations that have continually outperformed the pack are perennial risk takers. They are the innovators. When it comes to innovation, it becomes impossible to distinguish success from failure.

Consider the years after Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard Law School before Microsoft became a corporation. Mary, his mother, and undoubtedly others, could only see it as an epic failure.

All too often we are hasty to judge something to be a success or failure before the conclusion has even reached the bench. Failures in of themselves are often just the processes that lead us down the path to learning what does work and where our great ideas can finally emerge.

It can be more helpful to think of success and failure as supportive siblings. This can be difficult for the Western mind to grasp. The Western mindset tends to see things in dualistic terms such as big or small, hard or soft and so on.

In western society the mindset often is to see things in a dualistic oppositional term, such as black or white, day or night, sunny or rainy, sweet or salty, and so on. When in fact, these cannot exist without each other and often are found together much like the sun usually can be seen somewhere on a rainy day, and clouds can be seen on seemingly sunny days. The eastern philosophy tends to embrace this duality as a dancing paradox that is part of life. The relaxed view can be seen in their explanatory terms sweet and sour, yang and yang, and therefore all things are seen on a level that promotes success, crisis is only the transition to something better.

Success and Failure Leading Each Other: Have you noticed that short term successes often are followed by hard to recover disasters? That is because quick fixes usually back fire. It's sort of like a runner who happened across a sandy lot and decided to take it as a short cut, only to find that a few steps into it he steps on a thorny plant. He stops and picks out the thorn and keeps running, only to find himself in the middle of the thorny sand lot with thorns puncturing through the soles of his shoes. The only way to pick them out is to brace himself onto the ground that is over run by thorns, only to receive more and more thorns with every move. Having reached a good distance into this disaster area means that any way out will only treat him to more thorns and more pain. What was once a seemingly successful shortcut now becomes an utter failure.

An Innovation Approach: Japanese Samurai: Innovation is not a topsy-turvy unpredictable path that seems to lead straight into nowhere. It is a highly valuable and learned skill that must be mastered. Therefore, if you truly want to be mentored simply look to the Japanese Samurai for direction. Their life style and philosophy to life can provide examples of this art.

Samurais are known for their bravery and fierceness. Most people would agree that they were highly effective. The reason for this is their little known approach to life. It was a central mindset that guided their actions.

Samurais honed the ability to stay incredibly present. They understood that it was the will to win rather than the vision of winning that was the central key to victory. In fact, they lived by a credo of achieving the goal by ignoring the goal.

We may have a vision or goal in mind. It can be a huge vision or goal, such as a position or ownership of a company or business, or it could be to design a product that will be innovative. However, the most we can see and reach will only ever be the next step. We must bring our attention to the present set of mini goals, one at a time. To simplify this concept one must always bring their mind right to the next best step, cross referencing it from the last step to improve it, and looking to the next step in the future and applying it to the present goal.

All too often we tend to look to what could go wrong, and only fixate what went right in the past as our present set of circumstances. This is where the downfall begins. Therefore, the moment you fix your eye on a far off goal is the moment you file it away. When you do this, then you give your mind the privilege of freed up time and space to innovate the steps to get there. By looking at only the next step and not how it pertains to the ultimate goal then you will not get stuck one the steps that seemingly do not fit. The greatest innovations, therefore, will be found in bracing the unknown possibilities in between. Only by taking those risks and detours can you find the true path to your goal.

Fresh Eyes: Why Collaboration Is Needed: Being innovative and creative requires diligence in working together. Regardless of the goals, those who work on collaboration usually come out on top. A case in point from IBM, "the greater the level of collaborative innovation, the greater the financial performance. Regardless of the metric-revenue growth, operating margin growth or average profitability over time-strong collaborators consistently come out on top."

Sometimes massive innovation flops, such as New Coke, will bite hard for a time only to become the greatest of booms in the longer term. The good news is that if you constantly practice innovation you will learn how to turn your failures into successes and build upon that which is working.

To master innovation you need to release yourself from the fear of failure and the need to succeed. In fact, an outcome orientation to innovation is the killer. If you or your team has a pattern of needing to be sure of your outcome you will only generate the kind of caution and paralysis stops you from ever achieving great results.

To truly embrace success you need to consistently work on developing a culture that is founded on reinvention. Only in consistently evolving to the needs of the company and the changing economy can you succeed in reaching your goal.

Businesses need to take a lesson form our children; there are some great things they can teach us. The biggest is that of having an open mind and being able to receive and send a vision, constantly looking at the world with a fresh eyed wonder. They simply cast aside entrenched beliefs, taboos, habits, patterns, belief systems, and strongly rooted thought habits.
About the Author
Author: Rha K. Cardinale is an expert at transforming organisations and to easily create a culture of innovation . Visit the "Great Leadership" website for more great ideas on building innovative teams
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