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Failure is not really optional

December 6, 2012

According to a recent Fast Company post by Faisal Hoque: “Innovation is a key component of any enterprise, but failure is an intrinsic, inevitable part of the process. Most products fail, most mergers and acquisitions fail, most projects fail and most start-up ventures fail. All the innovation, entrepreneurial drive, and creativity won’t keep your company afloat if it lacks a structure and operating blueprint that can guide its ongoing success and conquer all changes and challenges. Click here for the full story.

That story got our very own innovation expert, Ron Porter, thinking…

“Innovation does not have to be a risky process,” he says. “The reason for failure is that organizations don’t have a sustainable, repeatable customer focused innovation process. When the innovation process is done effectively like the Design Thinking or Growth Through Innovation processes we teach, the risk of a costly failure of an idea reduces significantly. This is because when done properly, you focus on the most important area of dissatisfaction and fix that. Then, before you implement any idea, you test the significant unknowns to prove them right or wrong and adjust.”

Ron continues with stating that the examples cited in the article are good, classic examples of what Clayton Christensen would call “disruptive” innovation. “All of the companies in Hoque’s story missed the possible disruption because they were focused on continually pleasing their most demanding customers and not looking for new targeted customers whose needs and dissatisfactions might be different. Hoque’s questions are good, but I’d add questions that are asked from the customer’s perspective that include:

  • What is the problem you are facing?
  • Why do you care about solving it?
  • How often do you encounter this problem?
  • What process do you use now to solve that problem?
  • What alternatives did you consider when going through this process?
  • Why did you select the option you did?
  • What do you like about the option?
  • What don’t you like?
  • What frustrates you when you are trying to solve this problem?”

Ron agrees that the process is only one part that needs to be addressed. He also believes that you need to focus on creating an innovation capable organization, of which process and culture are parts. You need to take a systems approach to creating the right environment and focus on aligning 8 major areas:

  • Strategy: How does innovation support your business strategy? What is your innovation portfolio?
  • Leadership: Do leaders know how to lead innovation? What characteristics help or hurt their ability to lead innovation?
  • Culture: How do your values as demonstrated by leadership actions help and hurt the organization’s ability to innovate?
  • Competencies/Performance Measures: Do employees have the required competencies? What types of measures are we using to drive innovation?
  • Processes: Do we have a consistent, customer focused innovation process?
  • Systems: Do our reward/recognition systems support innovation? How do our decision making process help or hurt innovation?
  • Org Structure: Does your structure encourage diverse thought and cross functional collaboration? Does your structure allow you to respond quickly to changes in the marketplace?
  • Learning/Information: Do you broadly share customer information? Are key learnings shared widely in the organization?


Are you leading the innovation charge or is the fear of failure holding you and your organization back?

More about Ron Porter
Ron Porter

Ron is a Regional Vice President at Linkage. He brings a broad business perspective to helping complex, global organizations grow and improve. He has over thirty years of consulting and coaching experience working with senior executives and managers. He focuses especially on: innovation, strategy development and execution, organizational effectiveness, leadership alignment and development, organizational change, and strategic communication.

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