Innovation Requires Risk Taking


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“If you’ve never failed… you’ve never lived” is a popular video on YouTube describing the failures of people like Thomas Edison, once called “too stupid to learn” by his teacher and Walt Disney, who was fired from a newspaper for “lacking imagination”. Not every idea succeeds, and indeed, some of America’s most triumphant inventors, artists and entrepreneurs have most likely failed at some point in their lives. But without risk and the possibility of failure, there can be no Innovation and no success. That is precisely one of “Robert’s Rules of Innovation” imperatives: No Risk, No Innovation.

The success rate when it comes to innovation is very slim. In fact, just 1 in 100 new product entries succeed in the grocery business, according to a study by For every innovative product that comes out of the NPD process, there are plenty of ideas that don’t work out – deemed as failures. What’s important is that companies have a tolerance for failure and encourage risk taking. Fear of failure can kill Innovation. Never punish for failed ideas. Instead, learn from them how to improve in the future. Establish a level of trust so your team won’t be afraid to think outside the box. To build a successful culture of Innovation, encourage everyone on your New Product Development team to take risks!

“Robert’s Rules of Innovation” gives five simple steps for encouraging initiative and Innovation. Here are some tips:

1. Profiles in Risk: Clearly communicate the risk profile you are asking your people to adopt and state why it is important to the organization’s success.

2. Failure Management: Never allow an unsuccessful risk to hamper a team member’s opportunities and advancement.

3. Key Learnings Process: Establish a formalized, non-accusatory process for harvesting key learnings from unsuccessful risks. Distribute these lessons-learned.

For more, see “Robert’s Rules of Innovation” by Wiley, Spring 2010.

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


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