According to Rosabeth Moss Kanter, when it comes to innovation the big mistakes are “generally not errors of commission”.  Put another way a former boss used to say “if you’re not failing you’re not trying”.   Ultimately they both mean that it’s actually the lack of innovation that is the most risky approach to doing business.

So if the riskier approach is to do nothing and avoid innovation, then why are so many leaders and companies sitting on the side lines waiting for someone to invite them into the game?

I believe that the answer lies in two primary factors.  First, many business owners and leaders perceive innovation as the act of taking big chances, risking on big projects with big financial costs that have low odds of success in hopes of eventually hitting one home run that will compensate for the costs of all the losers.  Second, most people are not typically programmed for a high tolerance for differences or change so we tend to travel the most familiar roads and rely on the most familiar approaches to product progression, which ultimately result in less valuable incremental improvements.

The keys to succeeding in Innovation then are to commit oneself to making the Errors of Commission in the most intelligent way possible, and to commit to being open to ideas from unusual sources and in unusual places.

The design firm IDEO has coined the phrase “fail early and fail often in order to succeed sooner” which I think elegantly captures the essence of the first part of the commitment.  It is a strategy that seeks small wins through rapid prototyping and testing of theories that will ultimately deliver new ideas with the least risk.

As an added bonus, if you build your Innovation process around a commitment to testing ideas quickly and inexpensively you open the door to being able to test more ideas from more sources which opens to the door to tackling the second part of the problem.  Because you are now able to test more theories and it is less expensive to try out new ideas you will automatically be more open to those ideas that would have traditionally been too unusual to catch your eye.

Commit today to failing early, failing often, and failing in new and unusual ways as the first step to succeeding sooner in the creation of new growth in your business.  Make “Errors of Commission” your new secret weapon in changing the game on your competition!

About Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.

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