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 Expert

Edward D. Hess

Professor of Business Administration and Batten Executive-in-Residence

Hess is a top authority on organizational and human high performance. His studies focus on growth, innovation and learning cultures, systems and processes, and servant leadership.

Hess has authored 12 books, including The Physics of Business Growth: Mindsets, System and Processes, co-authored by Darden Professor Jeanne Liedtka, Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Entrepreneurial Businesses, and Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization. His latest book is Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age (January 2017), co-authored by Katherine Ludwig. He has written more than 100 articles and 60 Darden cases, and his work has appeared in more than 400 global media publications and programs.

B.S., University of Florida; J.D., University of Virginia; LLM, New York University