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Innovators and Failure: A Short Survey

by Stefan Lindegaard
November 3, 201211/3/12 3 Comments

I am working on an e-book on smartfailing for release in the first quarter of 2013. In preparation, I have developed a short survey on how innovators in medium-sized and large companies (about 250 people and up) deal with failure in their organizations. I will use the survey results to develop the key topics of the e-book and I will also share the results here on 15inno.com.

Before you jump to the survey, let me share some background information on the smartfailing term.

It started a few years ago, when I argued that we needed to become better at learning through failure, but that the word failure is so negatively loaded as to make the topic difficult to raise in many organizations. How could we create a new, productive concept and vocabulary on the intersection of failure and learning?

Toward this goal, I came up with the term “smartfailing.”

The idea is that when things go wrong (as they frequently will), a smartfailing organization does not focus its energy on assigning blame and doling out consequences. Instead, the smartfailing organization uses failure to learn and become better. When an organization embraces smartfailing, it de-stigmatizes failure internally and uses failure as an opportunity to learn and to find a better course.

The survey will help me get better insights and I hope you will help me on this.

You can access the survey here: Innovators and Failure: A Short Survey

(Please note: If you are not part of an innovation team, you are welcome to answer these questions for your organization as a whole if you feel your insights are relevant. You are also welcome to share your insights by taking the survey if you have previously worked with corporate innovation.)

Furthermore, if you have a case to share or if you would like to do an e-mail interview for the book, please send me an e-mail so we can discuss this: stefanlindegaard@me.com.

Here you can see the questions that I ask in the survey:

What is the size of your organization?
0 – 250 people
251 – 1000 people
1001 – 5000 people
More than 5000 people

What is your role with regards to innovation in your organization?
I work with innovation on a full-time basis in a senior leadership position
I work with innovation on a full-time basis in a middle-manager position
I work with innovation on a full-time basis without leadership or management responsibility.
I work with innovation from project to project or on an ad-hoc basis
I am not really involved with innovation in my organization

To what level is failure acceptable in your innovation team?
Failure is acknowledged as an inevitable part of the innovation process.
Small failures are accepted, but not big ones.
Failure is not acceptable here.

When an innovation effort fails, what is the attitude of the top leaders of your organization?(check all that apply)
They accept failure in a constructive way.
They encourage us to learn from the failure.
They appreciate the effort that went into the effort, even though it failed.
They assign blame and seek to punish those who have failed.
They sweep the failure under the rug.
They distance themselves from the failure.
They spin a failure as a win.

How strong an emphasis does your innovation team put on learning from failure?
We always emphasize this.
We emphasize this some of the time but not always.
Learning from failure is not emphasized here.

What levels are most often responsible for innovation-related failure in your organization? (Click all that apply)
Personal (internal factors)
Team (internal factors)
Business unit (internal factors)
Organization (internal factors)
Industry (external factors)
Macro (external factors)

Does your innovation team have a process in place to capture learnings from failures?
Yes, we do this each time.
We do this some of the time.
No, we do not focus on this.

To what extent do the same problems occur again and again in your innovation efforts?

To what extent are innovation-related failures made public in your organization?
To a high degree
To some degree

To what extent do you feel your innovation team is learning from its failures?
Yes, we are definitely improving and learning more each time something goes wrong.
We are improving to some extent but not as much as we could if we took a strong approach to learning from failure.
We are not improving. The same types of failures keep occurring.

What are the most common causes of innovation failure in your organization? 
(check all that apply)
Inadequate resources (budget, people, infrastructure)
Lack of innovation strategy
Poorly defined innovation strategy and goals
Lack of quality ideas in our organization and/or industry
Wrong personnel in place to make innovation happen
Lack of a formal innovation process
Poor management of the innovation process
Lack of training in innovation
Unrealistic expectations from top management regarding the resources and time required to achieve innovation
Lack of appropriate external partners
Company operates in silos instead of taking a team approach to innovation
Too much focus on idea generation rather than execution
Too much focus on products and technologies rather than considering all aspects in bringing innovation to market
Other (Please explain in the box provided.)

What is the level of appetite for innovation risk in your organization?
Very high

Currently there are "3 comments" on this Article:

  1. Hector Iglesias says:

    Dear Stefan: Failure is an infinite source of learning. At all levels, Universities, Industry, and so on, the way you learn more is through failure. Of course this should not be the leit motive, but sometimes is necessary in order to produce a shock in the research team.

  2. Abraham Kuruvilla says:

    It would be nice to know what is currently happening at Ricardo Semlers's Semco of 'Maverick' fame? Wasn't he a original open innovator?

  3. […] can check out the survey here: Corporate Innovation and Failure – A Short Survey. If you work with innovation in some capacity in a company with more than 250 employees, perhaps […]