Innovation. How best to develop, sustain and refine it? Let the battle commence between divergent and convergent thinking. Or perhaps not? Here we make the case for both types of thinking, side by side and suggest techniques for how best to unlock them.
Failure makes an uncomfortable bedfellow. Many business spend their time focusing upon performance goals avoiding mistakes or trying to shift them elsewhere when they happens. In many start ups and established businesses the resulting blame culture stifles and shuts down innovation as employees fear the aftermath of failure. The problem with this is that innovation is an inherent unknown, it’s value lies in discovery by trial and error and that path is littered with the carcasses of failure.
Many start ups, especially in the tech world are turning the traditional paradigm of failure avoidance on it’s head. Google subsidiary, X, the company’s research lab led by Astro Teller, or “Captain of Moonshots” is a failure evangelist. X works firmly in the future rather than the present. Think AI, Google Brain, the driverless car, Project Loon or Project Calico researching life extension none of these would have come into being if Google fostered a blame culture. With a fail fast mantra firmly focused on the future, this culture incubates the art of possibility, of what could be rather than what is. In fact, Teller goes one step further actively encouraging experimentation by celebrating and rewarding failure (see our blog on Moonshots for more on this). This organisational culture embraces error reporting, shunning shaming and cover up. Proving Stanford Business Professor, Baba Shiv’s claim that failure truly is “The mother of innovation.”
Creating a No-Blame Culture For Innovation
Researchers at the Johannes Kepler Universitat (Rami, U. & Gould, C. 2016. From a “Culture of Blame” to an Encouraged “Learning from Failure Culture”. Business Perspectives and Research) found 3 drivers necessary to shift away from a blame culture.
- Act on covering up errors. If they’re hidden you can’t learn from them. This comes from the top and is usually influenced by leadership style. A punitive, authoritarian leader is less likely to persuade employees to discuss and learn from failure than a delegative, authentic leader who listsens. Genuine conversations need to take place around the value of error and it’s inherent correlation with innovation. Take a leaf from Google’s dream leader, Teller and throw a failure party.
- Error communication. The research found that employees in fast paced organisations with elevated workloads were more likely to report their errors. Where error was caused by lack of knowledge or training it was less likely to be reported. One of the most important factors in error reporting was peer support. This requires a people focused leadership style along with trust, transparency and openness.
- Social backing. This is really about buy in and trust. Employees need to believe that their colleagues have bought into no blame, error reporting. They also need to trust in the leadership team and that there is a real investment in innovation through fast failing. If employees secretly believe that the honesty required for error reporting will come back to bite them on the ass, your culture of innovation will fall down at the first hurdle.
12 Steps to Creating A Failure Friendly Innovative Culture
If you’re building a start up or leading an established business these steps are necessary to shift from a blame culture to an innovative learning culture.
- Model the behaviour you want to by admitting your own mistakes. A learning culture instead of a blame culture starts at the top.
- Discourage your managers from promoting a purely task focused performance culture.
- Promote open error reporting for large and small errors equally.
- Examine your systems, do they support or reward error outing rather than creative discussion?
- Ensure that all employees prevent error cover up.
- Place the spotlight on error management rather than people blame.
- Make sure that you have buy in from your leadership team to create a constructive error culture
- Cultivate a culture of discussion, creative debate and non-judgement
- Shine the light of error responsibility on procedures and systems rather than people.
- Make sure than competency and knowledge deficit is reduced by training your people.
- Celebrate and reward failure in a tangible way.
- When you enjoy a success borne out of failure communicate it to all levels of your organisation.
Want to know more about creating a no-blame culture or building innovation and creativity? We offer consultancy, training, bitesize, half day or one day training courses along with conference sessions on how to build effective organisations. Contact us at email@example.com to find out more. We’d love to talk with you.
Are You Shooting For The Moon?
Maybe you’ve thought about your core values, your mission statement or your vision but what about your moonshot? Yes, your moonshot. Mission, values and vision can often sit on a shelf gathering dust with barely anyone other than the people who came up with them knowing what they are. A moonshot is different.
Originating from the Apollo and Soviet lunar programmes aiming to land humans on the moon, the term is now common business parlance. A moonshot is a long term business goal, an audacious ambition or innovative project. Google subsidiary, X, the company’s research lab refer to their most ambitious projects as moonshots. Led by Astro Teller, or “Captain of Moonshots” X works firmly in the future rather than the present. Think AI, Google Brain, the driverless car, Project Loon or Project Calico researching life extension. Like Google X the moonshot is firmly focused on the future, the art of possibility, of what could be rather than what is. A moonshot is something to aim for. It inspires your organisation at every level.
Moonshots are bold. They look beyond strategy towards the future. They are extraordinary projects or proposals that fulfil the following criteria;
- It addresses a problem, a big one
- It proposes a radical solution
- It utilises innovative thinking & technology
Teller takes the moonshot one step further by;
- Addressing the hardest part of the project first. This is a kind of natural selection, culling unsuitable projects in this phase. Teller describes this as identifying the Achilles heel early on rather than wasting time and money only to discover it later.
- Rewarding failure. We know from the work of Carol Dweck that learning by failure is the way to go. When a project is killed off in the culling phase, staff are rewarded. Failure is celebrated rather than brushed under the carpet.
Moonshots are game changers. They design the future rather than simply following the herd. So if you’re a business, start up or tech company looking to innovate, forget business as usual and follow our 6 step plan.
- Identify the problem – think huge ideas rather than bitesized.
- Along with your big idea there needs to be the potential to overcome the problem (this part is mission impossible rather than mission tricky)
- Form a team of committed, motivated, collaborative experts.
- Work out what the most difficult aspect of the project is and set to work.
- Foster a growth mindset. Learn from and celebrate failure.
- Get buy in to the project at every level of your business.
- Get to work and reach for the stars.
Want to find out more about innovation, moonshots, growth mindset or anything else involved in reaching for the stars? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org we’d love to hear from you. Check out our creativity and innovation training on our courses page to find out more.