From Loss to Lesson: How to innovate through failure

There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period. —Brené Brown

Creating breakthrough innovation is not an easy undertaking. If it were, everyone would do it. It takes a certain team dynamic, collaboration and overall commitment to the bigger picture of the impact a breakthrough innovation could have on your organization. Innovation is arguably the biggest advantage for growth in the ministry or marketplace. 

While there isn’t a secret formula to unlocking these transformative ideas, there are practices that enable real innovation with real results. One of the most important innovation practices I’ve continually seen is how an organization handles failure.

One of the companies I worked for early on in my career taught me to fail fast, fail cheap and fail often. But let’s be clear: not all environments share this philosophy. In fact, countless workplaces and management styles emphasize the opposite: that failure equals a loss of dignity, and potentially even loss of a job. What is your organization’s stance on failure?

Nobody goes to work hoping to feel criticized or condemned for their failed innovations, and no one sets out to fail on purpose. In turn, people tend to hide their failures when they feel they may be faced with criticism for them. However, these failures hold pathways to innovation, if we are allowed to safely explore how and why we failed.

I once participated in a “lessons learned” exercise with a team in which everyone refused to acknowledge any problems on a project, even though failures were incredibly easy to spot. An environment of fear can quickly expand into an environment of groupthink and denial. There’s hardly any room to grow in these environments because it is in the exploration of the “how” and “why” we failed that we’re able to create new pathways for success.

If we sweep our failures under the rug, no one learns, grows or gets better. But if we can unpack and highlight why we failed, what didn’t work and remain inquisitive, we can move our entire team from critical to curious—a giant stepping stone to creating a culture of innovation.

Leaders must take charge in spearheading these efforts. What is something you tried multiple times, and failed at, before success was reached? Share this with your team and ask for their examples as well. Creating an honest environment in which people don’t feel the pressure to be perfect fosters trust, which in turn cultivates innovation. Organizations that prioritize this are healthier and see higher revenues and returns.

Through cultivating an encouraging environment, allowing for failure and putting proper structure around teams and ideas, you can create a pathway to innovation within your organization. Of course, this is just the beginning of creating a culture of breakthrough innovators. Learning how to help teams rise from failure and move forward with confidence is a key component of effective leadership. With a culture and mindset that each loss carries a valuable lesson, everyone excels. 


This article was extracted from Issue 6 (Summer 2021) of the AVAIL Journal. Claim your free annual subscription here.

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