Innovation – the process of “failing fast”

As a father of three kids, I have seen first-hand the importance of play and failure when it comes to learning. It’s like time stands still as kids immerse themselves in a fantasy world where imagination rules.

As we grow older, we seem to accumulate emotions based on experiences. Most of us develop a fear for failure and a tremendous fear of rejection. Why is this I wonder? Why do we tend to be so scared to take the step and explore new and unknown frontiers? As human beings we have a fundamental drive to explore, it is in our DNA as a species, but why are we then held back by a perception that failure is bad?

One of the reasons I started thinking about this was when I discovered all these people that are part of history’s biggest failures: Michael Jordan, Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, all have a tremendous failure record before they made the big break-through.

We don’t look at these people as failures, but rather admire their achievements and tell ourselves how amazing these people are. I beg to differ - these people aren’t that special. Understand me right here, they all had tremendous talent, yes. But what really set them apart from the rest of us that have great ideas is the fact they had a crack at it. They failed over and over again, and kept persisting, until one day - they made it!

So what can we as thriving entrepreneurs learn from these people? What are the key takeaways that could help innovation to flourish? In my opinion, the key is in failing fast and doing it cost-effectively. I have experienced this in a business that grew from a few staff to a global enterprise. When the business was small, innovation was part of everything we did, driven by necessity to survive and the need for cash flow.

As the business grew and matured, the culture and the need for processes to enable scalability became important. The fact that we had monopoly on the technology also played a part in complacency when it came to innovation, as the focus was more about “keeping up”. When observing other companies going through a similar experience of growth, this pattern is very common. In larger companies it can be even harder, especially if a culture exists whereby failure is not an option.

So how do we overcome this? Well, back to the kids in the fantasy world. One of the key reasons kids learn so fast is that they don’t have this fear for failure. They are also not afraid to go outside their comfort zone and explore. If a business culture exists where innovation is challenging for these reasons, the fastest way to break-free and find motivation and inspiration for innovation is to allow ourselves to become kids again.

Take the team outside the office building; immerse yourself in an environment where you all feel that you belong. An environment where you are allowed to play, to explore and discover new things about each other, strengths and weaknesses.

If we as individuals can overcome the fear of failure and fear of rejection, new possibilities will emerge and enable innovation, create true value, and create business growth.

As Albert Einstein famously said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. So what are you waiting for – get out there, stretch your imagination and fail fast!

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