How to prevent the 'F-word' from limiting innovation

The risk of failure is inherent in innovation efforts — companies will never successfully implement new, creative ideas if they aren't prepared to fail. However, too often fear of failure leads only to paralysis, cementing businesses in a static state of the status quo.

"Failure's like gravity, a pervasive, perhaps inevitable, force and fact of life. But — like gravity — once understood and respected, it can be put to work on your behalf," John Danner, JD, senior fellow at the Institute for Business Innovation at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley wrote in Fortune magazine. Failure — and expecting failure to occur — can be leveraged to encourage innovation among employees. Empowering employees to take risks, even if they lead to failure, establishes the trust that is the foundation of a truly engaged workplace.

However, according to Mr. Danner, unfavorable culture and leadership style are the main reasons employees become disengaged in their work, making it less likely for them to pour additional energy into developing innovative ideas outside of their daily responsibilities.

The way risk and failure are treated in the workplace directly influences people's preparedness to take risk for the sake of innovation. Particularly, if an organization is occupied by a fear of failure people will be unable to see the benefits of risk as greater than the cost of failure. Together, the fear and memory of past failures stifle creativity and take away the courage necessary to try new things.

According to Mr. Danner, finding a balance between a performance culture of accountability that demands positive results with one that makes room for fallibility and possible setbacks will best position organizations for increasing innovation.

While failure shouldn't be celebrated or tolerated — especially if it is the result of negligence or incompetence — failure should also not simply be regretted. Rather, instances of failure should be recognized as resources that can help inform better decisions in the future and establish a more trusting, engaged and bold culture.

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