There has been a lot of buzz around embracing failure as a stepping-stone to success. Many organizations welcome the idea and contemplate the thought of celebrating failure, but they are often reluctant to embrace the concept in practice.
There are two main reasons. One is risk and failure aversion. In a work or school setting, our brains are formatted to learn theory and what the outcome should be instead of experimenting through trial and error. People don’t like to make mistakes, and they don’t like to look foolish, whether it is an adult or a child. Trial-and-error can cause both of these things to happen when things don’t work out as expected. The second reason is that our organizational cultures are often not designed to experimenting. In larger organizations, we are often trying to improve efficiency. Doing this means that we must reduce variation and risk. But innovation and experimentation increase variation.
What smart people realize is that without failure there would be no success. Failure leads to insight. Failure leads to understanding. Failure leads to innovation. As Douglas Adams said, “Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” What’s critical is to be able to learn from failed experiments to lead to successful ventures. On the West Coast, many successful organizations, from start-ups to established companies, have embraced this concept, but it is more of a challenge in the conservative Midwest.
The reasons are not too hard to find. Even in the most progressive and understanding of workplaces admitting to failure brings forth feelings of embarrassment, shame and inadequacy. In more extreme organizations it can lead to understandable concerns about loss of status and even salary.
Now, Indiana is challenging failure aversion. Led by Launch Fishers and Indiana Small Business Development Center, FailFest will celebrate the role failure plays in moving companies, careers and communities forward. On November 19, FailFest will bring Indiana’s most important business leaders together to share the lessons they’ve learned from the mistakes they’ve made, both personally and professionally, in a day-long conference designed to inspire, inform and ultimately change the way failure is perceived in our society. Failure leads to innovation.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison
As FailFest illustrates, social and business activism can help challenge the status-quo.
In that spirit, a group of innovation activists that I am leading is launching a new experiment – s.p.IN – Indiana’s first social & business activism platform that brings together innovation enthusiasts and practitioners to shape the Hoosier state’s future.
s.p.IN has been developed through an iteration process, gathering feedback from business leaders across the state about what they saw was missing in the existing initiatives around innovation (from conceptualization, to brand positioning to content). The intent is to bring people together that would likely not meet otherwise and get them work on specific innovative projects aimed to help the business community. CONNECT. EMPOWER. INSTIGATE. ACT.
s.p.IN seeks to accelerate innovation by creating an open innovation and collaboration platform where professionals use their diverse ideas, experience and resources to solve specific challenges within four key themes:
· - Planting the seeds of innovation in education
· - Creating a toolkit for Indiana entrepreneurs
· - Revisiting transportation
· - Designing a roadmap for community revitalization
To provide a venue for discussion and idea generation, s.p.IN hosts monthly mini-collisions with Indiana’s top influencers and innovation leaders at local businesses. Mini-collisions focus on a set of deliverables for each topic. The first projects will be announced in December. Output from mini-collisions will be unveiled online and shared in depth during s.p.IN’s Collide Summit Indiana un-conference, where the broader community will have the opportunity to provide feedback and build on the ideas.
Will it work? If we don’t try we’ll never know. This is what experimentation is all about. No risk taking, no failure in our minds. Only an opportunity to learn and succeed in the long term.