Let’s Eliminate the Word “Failure”

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I’d like to start off the day with a bold proposal.

I propose we eliminate the word “failure” from the innovation equation.

Oh, I know. I can hear it now. “Failure is a necessary part of innovation.” “If you want to be a truly innovative company, you have to be willing to risk failure.” “If you’re not coming up with breakthrough innovations, it’s because you’re not failing enough.”

It’s maxims like this that make innovation, in the minds of many, practically synonymous with failure.

No wonder some people/teams/companies are afraid of innovation! (Even if they say the opposite with their outside voices.)

So what’s the alternative?

The alternative is to call these “failures” what they really are: results.

That’s all they are. They are results. When you call a “result” a “failure,” you’re assigning a judgment to it. That’s on you. You’ve added that. The result is just the result. The negative connotation of “failure”—and the accompanying negative emotion—is all you.

I propose that we start looking at our innovation initiatives—be they large or small—the way a scientist looks at a hypothesis. A scientist comes up with a hypothesis—an idea. She then tests that idea. Those tests produce results. If the tests don’t confirm the hypothesis, she doesn’t label them “failures,” rant and rave about it, and threaten the jobs of anyone who had a hand in the debacle. What does the scientist do?

She looks at the result, says, “Hmmm…that’s not what I anticipated. Let’s see what’s actually happening. Once I have more information, I’ll either try again or discard the hypothesis.”

Do you see the difference? And do you see the difference this distinction can make in your (or your team’s, or your company’s) inclination toward innovation?

So—what do you think of my proposal? Life changing? Naive? Brilliant? Unworkable? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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