2013 Innovation Resolution: Make Mistakes


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At the beginning of every year, I pick one solid quote to live by for the year. This year, my quote comes from Neil Gaiman. Gaiman himself never graduated from college. He never even enrolled in college. Yet, today, he is one of the most celebrated and prolific writers working today.

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.” – Neil Gaiman

Innovation is impossible to achieve without taking a necessary amount of risk. To increase initiative and innovation, you have to encourage and even embrace failures and mistakes.

At its core, innovation is an experiment of sorts. It requires a culture of risk, opportunity and challenge. For every innovative product that comes out of the NPD process, there are plenty of ideas that don’t. There are plenty of failures and plenty of mistakes. What’s important is that companies have a tolerance for failure and encourage risk taking. It is not enough to encourage employees to take risks. Your organization’s culture must clearly communicate how you will support innovators who take intelligent risks.

No Risk = No Innovation; one of the ten Imperatives to Robert’s Rules of Innovation. Rather than view failure as inherently bad, successful innovation requires that executives and teams commit to learning from each experiment gone bad – and incorporate those teachings into the next endeavor.

For your 2013 New Year’s Resolution, I encourage you to make mistakes! Do not be afraid of failure.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Encourage. Promote well-reasoned risk taking. The pursuit of innovation isn’t some fool-hardy flight of fancy. Insist upon a plan to be presented first to ensure understanding and buy-in across the affected organization. Know your tolerance for risk and failure in the pursuit of innovation. Clearly communicate the risk profile you are asking your people to adopt and state why it is important to the organization’s success.

Test. In order to develop and test ideas, innovators need robust and consistent, processes and frameworks. True innovation requires thorough testing in pursuit of success. Testing, measurement, and an accounting of what’s been learned – even in failure – brings measurable outcomes from successes and failures alike.

Trust. Do you – as a CEO or team leader – trust your people to pursue new ideas on behalf of the company? Build a culture of trust in the individual’s pursuits – so long as safety measures are in place to safe guard against failure damaging the organization.

Adopt Failure as a Learning Experience!

The most successful companies today strive to be entrepreneurial and innovative. However, It is not enough to create a one-time “aha” moment. To get results in Innovation, a structured, repeatable process is essential. Look to all imperatives of Robert’s Rules of Innovation.

Here’s to a New Year of Innovation!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Robert Brands
Innovation Coach and Author of "Robert's Rules of Innovation" Past CEO of Airspray the manufacturer that brought instant foaming dispensers like hand soap to market


  1. I couldn’t agree with you more. I work for Continuum, a global design and innovation consultancy, and one my colleagues Devorah Klein, PhD, talks a lot about "Designing for Failure.” Failure is natural and human capabilities are limited so as designers we need to expect that failure is going to happen, and design for it! I think you would enjoy seeing her talk from the Healthcare Experience Design Conference on this topic: http://continuuminnovation.com/speaking/devorahklein/


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