The Importance of Failure to Success: The Challenge of Innovation

Innovation is widely considered essential to the strategy of any company. But it so rarely comes from a light bulb going off over someone’s head; it’s hard, and it usually takes a messy process of ideation, exploration and experimentation, and that process means risking and learning from failure.

The importance of failure to innovation and the importance of innovation to success might seem like a Catch-22 to most companies, those that avoid mistakes at all cost in the spirit of the finely oiled machine. Those companies are unprepared to balance operational excellence with tolerance for mistakes — for learning opportunities.

Companies that innovate well create the right kind of organizational culture, in which employees feel safe enough to speak up about their ideas and challenge themselves to think outside the box. Psychologically, humans automatically seek to confirm opinions they already hold. The kind of open-mindedness that leads to improvement means thinking on the next level. On that next level, employees can show they are smart by identifying what they don’t know, prioritizing what they need to know and successfully pursuing the best evidence-based answer.

Smart companies do the same.

Read more in Professor Ed Hess’ article “Why Is Innovation So Hard?” in Forbes.

About the Faculty

Edward D. Hess

Hess is a top authority on high-performance businesses, with a focus on organic growth and innovation strategies, systems and processes, and servant leadership. His current research examines how to use the science of learning to create a leading-edge learning organization.

Hess’ books include The Physics of Business Growth: Mindsets, System and Processes, co-authored by Darden Professor Jeanne... Learn More