Failure: ‘It’s an Emotional Problem’

Innovation goes hand-in-hand with failure — and the average workforce is not motivated to get up every day, go to work, and fail. So how do you address this emotional blocker to innovation and take the sting out of failure?

Doug Sundheim speculates on increasing innovation in the Harvard Business Review: “Define a smart failure.”

“Everyone knows what success is,” Sundheim observes. “Far fewer know what a smart failure is.”

If people understand how to fail and what the rewards are for the right kind of failure, they will be more likely to take the smart risks that spark innovation.

In his post, To Increase Innovation, Take the Sting Out of Failure, Sundheim defines the questions you can start asking in your organization: What makes a failure smart? Or, more importantly, what makes a failure dumb?

With the right answers, Sundheim says, failure can help you shape a new culture of innovation.

This article was originally published on Drive for Innovation.

7 comments on “Failure: ‘It’s an Emotional Problem’

  1. prabhakar_deosthali
    November 19, 2013

    I perfectly agree with the author of the original blog.

    A smart failure , in my opinion, is like allowing your small kid to falter before it can walk. If you continue to hold its hand for fear of him falling flat, the kid would never make it .

    Unless a person is habituated  to  some sort of risk taking, he will not be able to build new things, devise to methods.

    It is a well known fact that Edison failed 1000 times before he could succeed in making that Light Bulb ! The same could be said of every innovation that has transformed our world, a better living place.




  2. Taimoor Zubar
    November 20, 2013

    “With the right answers, Sundheim says, failure can help you shape a new culture of innovation.”

    @Jennifer: I think what's important to note here is that failure alone cannot teach you anything. It's important to analyze the failure and draw lessons out of it only then you can succeed the next time. I've seen people proudly mention their failures but they also keep failing over and over. The reason is the same – they don't simply look at what went wrong.

  3. Taimoor Zubar
    November 20, 2013

    @prabhakar: I think what's important to note here is when people try to understand a successful person, they only look at his/her successes and ignore the failures. Whereas, the failures had played a vital role in bringing that success up. People will only glorify Steve Jobs' launch of iPhone and iPad but they don't really look at other things that didn't go so well for him during his career.

  4. Houngbo_Hospice
    November 21, 2013

    It is often said “If you don't prepare for success, you are sure to fail”. Even though we know that well-planned projects can fail, we should always endeavor to avoid failure as much as possible. I understand that Jennifer wants people to learn how to deal with failure and not let that be an innovation killer in them, but it is also true that unless you know why you failed in a project, you will likely fail in other projects as well.

  5. t.alex
    November 21, 2013

    I have heard many peope who live and work at different places in the world say that the main difference between Silicon Valley and other places is in Silicon Valley, people celebrate failures as much as they do for success. This makes it a place of innovation as people are not so afraid of failures.

  6. Taimoor Zubar
    November 26, 2013

    “main difference between Silicon Valley and other places is in Silicon Valley, people celebrate failures as much as they do for success.”

    @t.alex: Yeah the whole idea is to make failure appear as cool as success. One of the ways to do this is to ensure that your reward mechanism is not entirely on success but equally balanced to cater towards failure too. People should be rewarded for trying and not just for being succesful.

  7. t.alex
    November 26, 2013

    TaimoorZ, unfortunately, the fear of failure and the idea that failure must be avoided at all cost are still pervasive in most parts of the world.

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