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Organizations and Failure: Why Don’t We Learn More?

November 22, 2012 15inno 5 Comments

As I am working on my upcoming book, SmartFailing, which looks into how companies can learn more from failures in an innovation process, I will write a series of blog posts based on questions that came to me as I went through the key findings in my recent survey.

In this first post, I focus on the overarching question of why organizations do not learn more from failures in their innovation efforts. It would be great to hear your views on this topic. Please feel free to go around or beyond the below questions that only serve as discussion starters.

The questions:

Our survey indicates that innovation teams blame business units or the organization in general for failure. What do you see as the main reasons for this?

I often meet people who believe that silos and silo thinking really hinder innovation. What is your view on this?

What impact does it have on an organization when executives distance themselves from failure rather than trying to learn from it?

Why are executives distancing themselves from failure?

Our survey shows that senior people are more positive than employees on how well their companies deal with innovation-related failure. What do you see as the main reasons for this?

In some instances we heard that senior personnel try to sweep failure under the rug or even spin a failure as a success. What kind of impact will such behaviour have on learning from failure and on developing an innovation culture in general?

Another problem people cited quite frequently was “unrealistic expectations from top management.” Do you have any thoughts on how to address this problem?

Among the possible cause of innovation failure that drew a big response in our survey was “too much focus on products and technology rather than considering all aspects of bringing innovation to market. What are your ideas on how to overcome this particular problem?

How can companies change the mindset of their innovation teams and employees in general so that innovation is viewed more broadly than being about just products and technologies?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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Currently there are "5 comments" on this Article:

  1. Ellia Ryan says:

    Thanks for the opportunity to stoke the brain fires on this, Stefan!

    "What impact does it have on an organization when executives distance themselves from failure rather than trying to learn from it?" "…senior personnel try to sweep failure under the rug …"

    In my experience, leaders who are more concerned about being liked than being respected tend to distance themselves from failure as much as possible, sometimes to the extent that they will remove the person that they associate with the failure from the project (or even the organization).

    This is why it is important to link leadership training to innovation. Innovation is a risky enough business in itself. To not provide leaders with the skills to help teams and orgs navigate this risk while embarking on innovative projects is detrimental to their staff, their company and, ultimately, their reputation as a leader.

    Effective leaders are self-reflectors, and should regularly assess their attitudes to innovation and risk, and seek sources of fresh thinking (such as Stefan's articles and books) as necessary.

  2. […] The survey was conducted by Stefan Lindegaard under his post Organizations and Failure: Why Don’t We Learn More?  I think he is looking within the organization more, whereas I see failure ‘sitting’ far […]

  3. There are a lot of meaty questions in this post, and they all resonate! Just to look at the first question – that innovation teams blame the business units for failure – there are a lot of reasons for this, but I'll just focus on a few.

    First, there is often a discord between the objectives of the business units and those of the innovation team. The business unit often has short-term sales performance objectives and their resources are distributed accordingly. Many innovation teams have a broader, longer-term remit. The result can be that when the central innovation team needs resources to build and launch an innovation, the business units can't or won't support it – they might need to sacrifice meeting the objectives that they are responsible for. There is no incentive to do this if they are not measured on the success of innovation, and there are potentially grave consequences in business performance and in their own and team's career prospects.

    This ties in with lack of a clear innovation strategy, one that is linked to the overall business strategy. It's not a surprise that business unit and innovation team objectives don't align if the innovation strategy is not driven by and aligned with corporate, brand and business unit strategies.

    Finally, if the culture or innovation process & governance causes the central team to operate in a vacuum and not involve the business units and wider business functions throughout, the disconnect will cause problems eventually.

  4. […] * The survey was conducted by Stefan Lindegaard under his post Organizations and Failure: Why Don’t We Learn More? […]

  5. […] key to success.  However, many companies fail to innovate, despite their good will. In a recent survey I read, participants in majority pointed their fingers to the lack of innovation engagement from […]

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