Seven Steps from Failure to Innovation - IEDP
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Seven Steps from Failure to Innovation

Avoiding the 'F' word to release creativity


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If the past decade tells us anything it is that growth is not eternal and companies must prepare for market upheavals and downturns. Fostering innovation – both of products and business models – may be best the way to do this, but innovation is easily stifled by a fear of failure.

Fear of failure is the enemy of new thinking and can cause us to dig ourselves into deeper holes. Recently retired Berkeley-Haas Professor Barry Staw, who coined the phrase "escalation of commitment," argues that when people or organizations are under threat, they tend to be less adaptive and innovative. They become rigid in thinking and actions, revert to prior, known behaviour, and add more rules and regulations.

"People and organizations actually do the worst thing that they should be doing," says Staw. "Instead, they should be looking for new approaches and innovating."

In their new book The Other “F” Word, Berkeley-Haas Senior Fellows, John Danner and Mark Coopersmith offer a seven-step framework for transforming failure into increased innovation, improved employee engagement, and accelerated company growth.

We all learn by our mistakes up to a point, but failure can be both demoralizing and costly, so as a rule most of us hide our ‘shameful’ failures rather than embracing them as steps on the way to success. In their book Danner and Coopersmith show how failure can be embraced to become a game-changing strategic resource that can help individuals and organizations innovate to achieve success.

Based on exclusive interviews with prominent leaders and examples from their own in-depth work, the book, aimed at an organization’s leadership as well as its team members, offers practical advice structured around their seven-stage Failure Value Cycle:

  • Respect and anticipate failure in order to reduce the fear of failure
  • Rehearse to improve your reflexes when failure happens
  • Recognize failure’s signals earlier to buy time
  • React quickly to minimize damage
  • Reflect to draw insights
  • Rebound to put new action plans into play to improve performance
  • Remember to strengthen workplace culture

“Every organization or leader experiences failure. It is the biggest, most valuable yet untapped resource to success,” explains Danner.

Danner and Coopersmith, both from Berkeley-Haas’ Lester Center for Entrepreneurship, became interested in failure as an important topic when talking to groups of MBA alumni during a lecture tour.

“We noticed an interesting reaction when we talked about failure,” says Coopersmith. ”After our talks, people came to us and asked how they could start a conversation about this taboo topic in their organizations. That’s the goal of our book: to kick-start those conversations about the ‘other “F” word.’ It is not an academic textbook, but rather a pragmatic guide to exploring the frontier of failure and improving performance.”

“Think of failure like gravity,” says Danner, “It’s a pervasive fact of life that you can't ignore but can leverage to reach new heights.”

The book also features insights from start-up guru Guy Kawasaki, Mark Hoplamazian, the president and CEO of Hyatt Hotels Corporation, and others who have used failure as a lever.

The Other “F” Word: How Smart Leaders, Teams, and Entrepreneurs Put Failure to Work (Published by John Wiley & Sons; ISBN: 9781119017660; March 2015)

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