9 Good Reads on Failure (in the Context of Innovation)


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A few years ago, I argued that we needed to become better at learning through failure, but that the word failure itself is so negatively loaded. How could we create a new concept and vocabulary on the intersection of failure and learning?

With the help from Hutch Carpenter, I came up with term, Smartfailing.

The idea is that when things go wrong (as they frequently will), a smartfailing organization does not focus its energy on assigning blame and doling out consequences. Instead, the smartfailing organization uses failure to learn and become better. When an organization embraces smartfailing, it de-stigmatizes failure internally and uses failure as an opportunity to learn and to find a better course.

I have not written much about SmartFailing recently, but this will be the topic of my next book project. Here, I will look into how the idea of smartfailing works in the context of innovation in big companies where the organizations are quite stressed as they are forced to embrace open innovation during what is being dubbed as the social era.

A big challenge in this book project is to get corporate innovators and startups to share their failures – and more important what they learned from these failures. Hopefully, I will get some interesting interviews and cases on this.

As I often do with my book projects, I plan to build on the ideas and insights of others. Here you get into the game as it would be great if you can chip in with your comments and insights. I am open for inspiration : – )

I can start out by sharing the below list of great articles that are related to the idea of SmartFailiing.

I look forward to getting your input!

Mistakes versus Experiments – by Tim Kastelle

Failure is always a contentious issue. If you fail, you lose resources that could been used elsewhere. The problem is, if every idea that you try works, then you’re not trying enough new ideas. So some ideas will need to fail. This can come through experiments, or mistakes. Experiments are better, but both can help as long as you make sure that you learn from them.

Why The ‘Fail Fast’ Mantra Needs to Fail, Fast – by Mark Suster

Mark Suster, an entrepreneur turned VC, argues that fail fast is wrong, irresponsible, unethical and heartless. He focuses on startups, but his reasoning also works for corporate innovators. Interesting counter-points!

What We’re Talking About When We Talk About Failure – by Tim Kastelle

I think that what I really mean is that to innovate, we have to learn. It’s not the failure that drives innovation, but rather the learning.

There is really a hierarchy of failure:

• System failure (the collapse of communism)
• System component failure (stock market crashes)
• Major firm failure (Enron going out of business)
• Start-up failure (pets.com going out of business)
• Product failure (New Coke tanking)
• Idea failure (Apple Navigator prototyped but never launched)

Don´t Fail Fast – Learn Fast – by Braden Kelley

When it comes to innovation, it is not as important whether you fail fast or fail slow or whether you fail at all, but how fast you learn. And make no mistake, you don’t have to fail to innovate (although there are always some obstacles along the way). With the right approach to innovation you can learn quickly from failures AND successes.

Embracing Failure Does Not Mean Embracing Mistakes – by Maddie Grant

“We don’t define failures and mistakes the same way,” she said. A mistake is when you do something wrong, even though you knew the right way to do it. Failure is when you are trying something new, and you don’t know ahead of time how to make it successful.

Why Smartfailing Will Improve University Innovation Strategy – by Melba Kurman

If corporations are learning to learn from failure, why not universities? It seems that universities should be even more comfortable with the idea that failure is a learning opportunity. After all, U.S. research universities are under less short-term pressure to make a profit. At least in theory, universities seem like natural smartfailers since university culture celebrates open-ended basic scientific inquiry and academic freedom. Yet, in my experience, many university work environments are not yet ready to embrace smartfailing.

The Failure Issue – by Harvard Business Review

HBR dedicated the April 2011 issue to failure. Click the above link to read executive summaries of the great articles. Unfortunately, there are not that many corporate cases except from an interview with former P&G CEO, A.G. Lafley.

You Must Own Change Before It Owns You – by Jorge Barba

But before even acting, the first thing you should do about change, is acknowledge it and introduce yourself to it. Yesterday I shared 3 questions you should ask yourself to help you take charge of change:

• What do we do now?
• What do we do next?
• How can we make this work for us?

These three questions can be answered through smartfailing. Point: You must own change before it owns you. Ignore change at your own peril.

The Lean Startup – a book by Eric Ries

Rather than wasting time creating elaborate business plans, The Lean Startup offers entrepreneurs – in companies of all sizes – a way to test their vision continuously, to adapt and adjust before it’s too late. Ries provides a scientific approach to creating and managing successful startups in an age when companies need to innovate more than ever.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stefan Lindegaard
Stefan is an author, speaker, facilitator and consultant focusing on open innovation, social media tools and intrapreneurship.


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