Failure is Part of Innovation

By Linda Fisher Thornton

To Innovate, Rethink the Blueprint

If we just try to make something better using the design blueprint that we’ve always used, it is very difficult to innovate. Using the blueprint we have used in the past ties us to the assumptions and limitations of that blueprint.

Rebuild the Basic Design

Using our existing infrastructure, plan, model, specs or blueprint will keep us locked into the assumptions that we used to create them. In order to freshen our approach, we need to look broadly at consumer and business trends, and build a new set of assumptions.

Once we have reframed our assumptions, we can craft something completely different. Reframing our assumptions helps us do more than just make a newer version of the old product.

See Failure as a Necessary Step

Benjamin Franklin said “Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.”  Henry Ford spoke from experience when he said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

A culture that deals well with failure helps fuel innovation. When we create a new blueprint based on a new set of assumptions, it is likely that there will be some failures before a final product is ready for market.

“Failure is a necessary part of the innovation process because from failure comes learning, iteration, adaptation, and the building of new conceptual and physical models through an iterative learning process. Almost all innovations are the result of prior learning from failures.”

Edward D. Hess, Darden Graduate School of Business, in Creating an Innovative Culture: Accepting Failure as Necessary, Forbes, June 20, 2012

Seeing failure as a necessary learning step creates the kind of culture where talented, creative people can do their best work.

“Leaders who see failure as a necessary part of trying new things will encourage innovation and engage creative employees. Instead of firing or blaming when people make mistakes, we can put them up on an ‘innovation learning’ board as a necessary learning step in the process of innovating.”

Valeria Moltoni in Innovation and Failure, Fast Company Expert Blog Post.

Embrace Uncertainty and Possibility

To lead for innovation, we need to become comfortable not having the “right” answers, and instead think about possibilities. In innovation, uncertainty is not uncomfortable – it gives us the space to recreate what we do.

When we rebuild assumptions we can create better solutions that meet multiple needs or solve multiple problems.

“Innovative thinking is not reliant on past experience or known facts. It imagines a desired future state
and figures out how to get there. It is intuitive and open to possibility. Rather than identifying right
answers or wrong answers, the goal is to find a better way and explore multiple possibilities. Ambiguity
is an advantage, not a problem. It allows us to ask, ‘what if?'”

David Horth, Center for Creative Leadership and Dan Buchner, Continuum, Innovation Leadership: How to Use Innovation to Lead Effectively, Work Collaboratively and Drive Results, 2009,

Think about how well you support possibility thinking and innovation as you answer the questions below.

Questions for Discussion:

1. Do we accept failure as a necessary part of learning or do we punish people who try new things and make mistakes?

2. Where do we need to rethink our assumptions about how we do our work or how we design our product?

3. What is it about our existing blueprint that isn’t working any more? How will we rethink it to bring it up to date?


For more, see new book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 


Join the Conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: