On Innovation & Failing 49% of the Time

Two girls on a raft

During my childhood, my siblings and I never had a shortage of things to do. We had a garage full of tools and we lived right next to a small wooded area, both of which provided us with ample opportunities to experiment and explore. One spring, we spent days building a raft that we hoped to use in our small pond. When it was completed, we were extremely proud. In that moment, we felt it was by far one of our greatest accomplishments yet.

Sadly, when we pushed the raft out into the pond, it sank – what was supposed to be a triumphant moment ended in failure. And yet, this failure didn’t discourage us for long. After quickly contemplating why our raft didn’t float, we moved on to new and more exciting projects.

If only failures in organizations where met with this same attitude – moving on if something doesn’t work out. Unfortunately, many organizations I consult with have a hard time accepting failure as part of the innovation process. Instead, they resist trying new things out of fear that they won’t work. And when they do try something that fails, those involved in the process are blamed and shamed.

I’ve learned that without failure, there typically isn’t much innovation. The only way to innovate consistently is to embrace that failure is inevitable. However, we should always try to test things cheaply, or as we like to say at CTRI and ACHIEVE, “if we are going to fail, let’s fail fast and cheap.” And when we do fail, we who are in leadership must not discourage those who have worked on the project by blaming or shaming them.

I like to tell my staff that, while we hope for success, when it comes to innovation we only need to be successful 51 percent of the time. That way we’re left with a lot of room to experiment and try things. When you fail 49 percent of the time, you are still better off than if you didn’t try anything at all.

Randy Grieser, Author & Speaker

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