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Fear of failure kills innovation

May 9, 2013

Seth Godin writes an insightful blog about a variety of topics…this week, he’s zeroed in on urgency and accountability in innovation.–Ed.

“As organizations and individuals succeed, it gets more difficult to innovate,” he writes. “There are issues of coordination, sure, but mostly it’s about fear. The fear of failing is greater, because it seems as though you’ve got more to lose.

“So urgency disappears first. Why ship it today if you can ship it next week instead? There are a myriad of excuses, but ultimately it comes down to this: If every innovation is likely to fail, or at the very least, be criticized, why be in such a hurry? Go to some more meetings, socialize it, polish it and then, one day, you can ship it.

“Part of the loss of urgency comes from a desire to avoid accountability. Many meetings are events in which an organization sits in a room until someone finally says, “okay, I’ll take responsibility for this.” If you’re willing to own it, do you actually need a meeting, or can you just email a question or two to the people you need information from?

“Thus, we see the two symptoms of the organization unable to move forward with alacrity, the two warning signs of the person in the grip of the resistance. ‘I can take my time, and if I’m lucky, I can get you to wonder who to blame.’

“You don’t need more time, you just need to decide.

“Read the history of the original Macintosh computer and you’ll be amazed at just how fast it got done.”

Click here to read the full post.

Seth got our own innovation expert Lisa Parker thinking (and blogging): “Seth is absolutely correct in talking about how much more difficult it is to successfully innovate when a company or person becomes more successful and larger in scale,” she writes. “Just compare the Fortune 500 list of today with one from 15 years ago and you can see how the mighty have fallen! One of the main reasons is the perceived risk that there is so much more to lose.

“But the reality is that a culture of innovation requires some acceptance of risk. And the way to make risk more palatable is to test assumptions more frequently along the way. These tests serve to educate the decision makers who can make any necessary course corrections and thus speed up the pace of change and innovation.

“Whether through skunk works or reward systems, those companies that are willing to accept more risk will ultimately build a culture that embraces urgency and accountability that’s necessary to survive in our highly competitive business environment.”

So, does your company reward or punish risk taking? The answer could be the difference between life and death of your organization.

About Lisa:

Lisa Parker has extensive experience in leadership strategy, team building, organization development and assessments, and innovation process management. Her specialties are building innovation-capable organizations, team dynamics and communication, emotional intelligence, strategic thinking, design thinking and change, transition management, and the creative process. Follow her on Twitter @Stratovationist.

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