Understanding Innovation: The Sweet Taste of Success or the Foul Taste of Failure
My wife went to visit a friend this past weekend and took the kids so I could work all weekend. Yesterday evening after a day of adventures the kids decided to play a game called Bean Boozled. I haven’t played the game myself, but my understanding is that part of the game involves testing fate and your taste buds by eating mystery jelly beans of various colors.
Each color jelly bean can have a good flavor or can have a very foul tasting flavor. Pick a blue jelly bean and you may get Toothpaste or Berry Blue. Pick a green jelly bean and you might get Lawn Clippings or Lime. The other foul tasting options include Stinky Socks, Rotten Egg, Barf, Canned Dog Food, Booger, Mold Cheese, Baby Wipes and Skunk Spray.
At the end of the game my son decided he was going put a handful of the mystery jelly beans in his mouth at one time. My wife’s friend recorded the event. At first he chewed and was okay, until suddenly he lurched violently forward and covered his mouth. He tried to recover but then lurched forward again and was on his knees then was lying on the rug. My wife asked if he was okay. He got up on his knees, grabbed a shallow green bowl and with a quick reflexive lurch forward spit the contents of his mouth out into the bowl.
After watching the video later that evening I asked my son on the phone, “Why on earth did you do that?”
He replied, “I wanted to be brave.”
Many companies today are stating that they want to be more innovative and creative. But to do so companies must realize that they are going to have to change the way they have to been doing things. To change the culture of a company is not an easy or quick process and to attempt to do so you have to be brave.
The desire for companies to be more innovative and creative is a response to the rapidly changing economic and technological world we live in. Most people would agree that change is inevitable, yet many companies today are resistant to risk and avoid changing their process or culture. There is a definition of insanity that states, “Insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results.”
The culture of the company and it’s willingness to experiment and accept risk and failure as a part of the process will determine how innovative or creative the products they produce are. Culture is also a huge factor in the number of ideas that are presented.
Carol Dweck in her book Mindset talks about the difference of Fixed versus Growth mindsets. Fixed mindsets are ones in which individuals have very focused and rigid attitudes while holding the belief that qualities like intelligence or talent are fixed. These subject matter experts see a defined set of accepted and “approved” best practices. People with fixed mindsets often reject ideas or opinions of others that do not fall within the set of “approved” knowledge and methods. This perfectionist mindset establishes behaviors that are limited to their area of expertise. These individuals will often not try skills or practice techniques in which they do not get immediate positive results.
Growth mindset individuals are open to new ideas and willing to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zone to try new things. This mindset in trying new things, takes into account that it takes practice and time to get good at a skill. The growth mindset allows for failure.
It has been said that many successful people view failure merely as results and feedback to get them back on track towards success. Mastery they understand comes from practice, practice, practice. In Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers he states that it takes 10,000 hours of disciplined practice to master a skill. Although this idea has been accepted by a number of industry leaders as a valid benchmark many corporate cultures do not allow for failure or the time necessary to achieve truly innovative outcomes.
Failure is often a necessary part of the process for truly innovative and creative products. There are a number of case studies that show that the many of the products that have changed the world were only produced after a series of failures and setbacks.
Thomas Edison was an inventor that had 1093 U.S. patents and is widely known for the invention of the first commercial light bulb in 1879. The development of the light bulb had thousands of failed attempts before he developed the prototype that used a carbonized bamboo filament and was the basis for the light bulb that we know today.
“Innovation is not a light bulb moment of genius,” according to the Luma Institute in their book Innovating for People. “It calls for deep understanding and rigorous discernment. It requires critical thinking and problem framing. You need to identify patterns, determine priorities, and translate your research into actionable insights.” In other words, you need to understand the problem you are trying to solve, develop a plan, learn from your mistakes, and then take action on what you have learned until you succeed.
The Wright brothers had a dream of flight and risked their lives in the development of the first powered airplane. They had many failed attempts before their first successful flight on December 17, 1903 in which they travelled 852 feet in 59 seconds. The Wright brothers continued to make revisions to their airplanes. It was not until 1909 that they were able to develop an airplane that met the military’s standards of a two-seater airplane that could fly for an hour at an average speed of 40 miles per hour and land safely.
The Wright brothers continued to work hard and improve on their ideas after their first successful flight. Innovation “requires a commitment to successive improvement through frequent iteration,” according to the good folks at Luma Institute. Failure is part of the iterative process of design. It was true in the development of the airplane and it will be true in the development of the products of the future.
Apple is known to be a leader in the development of the products of tomorrow. As one of the most successful innovative and creative companies of today; it’s products have literally changed the way people communicate and do business. The iPhone opened up entire industries and provided an opportunity for countless entrepreneurs to make money with games and apps. Apple has a long track record of success, yet it’s latest release of the iPhone 7 has some consumers scratching their head.
The new iPhone 7 does not have the standard audio jack. It still does allow users to plug in wired headphones that come with the phone though the Lighting connector port or use an adapter if you have your headphones. It’s new wireless AirPods look strange, need to be charged and at a $159.00 price tag are pretty expensive for an accessory that could be lost easily. Time will tell if these changes to the iPhone will be a hit or a miss. What do you think?
I had a conversation with one of my fellow adjunct professors Karen Gogerty about what my son did after the game of Bean Boozled and discussed his reason of wanting to be brave. She said, “Well there is a very thin line between brave and stupid.” I think in most company cultures if you take a risk and are successful you may be perceived as brave and even a genius. However if you fail, you may be seen as stupid or crazy. Was Edison stupid to continue the development of the light bulb after thousands of failures? Where the Wright brothers crazy to risk their lives? How different would the world be today without these inventions?
Steve Jobs quoted Rob Siltanen when he said, “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
Innovation, just like in the game of Bean Boozled, requires that you pick and taste the jelly bean of your choice. Sometimes the outcome is the sweet taste of success. More often than not, you may be left with the foul taste of failure. This can prevent you from even wanting to try again. Yet there are numerous examples that show us success only occurs after a series of failures. It is only the craziest and/or bravest of people or companies that would be willing to be innovative enough to try a handful of mystery jelly beans at the same time.