Low-risk innovation, it sounds too good to be true.  That’s why so many companies prefer to implement small, incremental changes to their current offerings than to step out and boldly develop breakthrough offerings that can have a much more significant impact on the business.  We fear the risk that something will not go as expected, that we may fail.

Successful failure

But what if you expect that things will not go as you expect?  What if failure were an important element on the road to success for your new innovation?

In my recent visit to the Disney Institute, they shared the term “successful failure” with us.  I like that term!  It implies that every failure contains within it something of value.  Instead of being a source of shame, failure can be a cause for celebration.

Legend has it that Thomas Watson, founder of IBM, called a subordinate into his office one day.  That employee, who had done something that caused IBM to lose $5 million, was certain that he was about to be fired for his mistake.  When Watson began to talk about things that he wanted this young man to do in the future, the employee was startled.  “Mr. Watson, I thought you brought me in here to fire me.”  To which Watson supposedly replied, “Fire you?  I just spent $5 million training you.”

Innovation experiments

So what if every bold innovation opportunity were set up as a series of small-scale experiments?  Pick a small target audience (or a small European country) and introduce one element of your innovation – not the entire offering.  Test how customers react to your beta website.  Test how the new product works.  Test how your customer service people might respond to customer calls.  Test how the competition responds.

Expect that all these experiments will fail to some extent.  But also expect to learn a great deal from each one – information that you can use to do it right when you introduce the breakthrough innovation.

By breaking down your breakthrough innovation into controlled experiments designed to prevent large-scale financial losses AND provide critical learnings for ultimate success, you are not taking on large risks and you are not failing with your innovation.  You are learning.  That’s what successful failure is all about.

May all your failures be successful. Learn more about breakthrough innovation by visiting us at Insigniam Innovation.

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