One of the biggest hurdles in fostering a culture of innovation in an organization is the fear of failure.
This is one of the most critical aspects of a culture. The fear of failure creates a lot of additional hurdles in the innovation process.
- No Breakthrough Innovation: The biggest impact on the innovation process that the fear of failure can have is that this almost ensures that there will be no breakthrough innovation coming out of the innovation process. Any breakthrough innovation requires at some stage for the team to decide to follow an insight/idea that is unconventional or against the common wisdom. This involves some amount of risk that this might not work out and could lead to a failure. The fear of this failure will ensure that the insights/ideas that are the safest bets would be consistently chosen, which could result in average, small scale incremental innovation coming out of the process.
- Big Failures: The fear of failure could also lead to spectacular failures. The fear of failure stops employees from raising the red-flag at the first instance when they realize that the project/product is not working out. This leads to a situation where everyone knows that the project is a failure but no one wants to be the one to admit it, which then results in continued effort and resources being put in to the project, when the project should have been acknowledged as a failure and either closed or a pivot done to continue to vie for success.
- Lack of learning: This fear of failure also ensures that there is not much risk being taken and hence, not many projects fail, which also means that there is not much learning happening either. As we all know that failure is a much better teacher than success.
- Lack of Trust on Leaders: Primarily the fear of failure indicates that there is a lack of trust for the leaders of the organization, which by itself almost ensures that there are even bigger challenges that the organization needs to address in order to remain relevant and innovative.
So, what can we do to create a culture where the fear of failure is replaced by a culture of learning and course corrections.
Re-Frame Failure as Iterations: Re framing Failure as Iterations provides the employees the necessary cushion to explore slightly more riskier insights/ideas when going after innovation.
As with most of the challenges relating to culture, leaders should start talking and behaving in a way that not only tells the employees that it is OK to go after big challenges and fail now and then as long as they are able to admit failure, learn from the failure and do so quickly and cheaply, continue to pivot and address the challenge through pursuing different insight/ideas.
This simple re-framing also creates the culture of experimentation, iterations and pivots. This also reduces the overall cost of innovation, speeds up the innovation process and at the same time creates the possibility for breakthrough solutions coming through the process.
PS: Here is a video where children have re-framed failure to iteration and not only fare better but thrive in their schools.
What is your opinion? What would you do to address fear of failure in your organization? Do share your thoughts..