Innovation Myth #2:  Fail Fast, Fail Often is the Secret to Innovation

Innovation Myth #2: Fail Fast, Fail Often is the Secret to Innovation

Kevin Fallon / Thursday, October 20, 2016 / Innovation Management

At the World Economic Forum in China last year, a panelist was asked for his best advice on innovation and his answer was “fail fast, fail often.” It’s surprising that a so called expert of this caliber believed this to actually be true.  

“Fail fast, fail often” is a popular myth promoted by mainstream Silicon Valley and the Lean Startup movement. In fact, this myth is even beginning to mistakenly be associated with Thomas Edison whose statements clearly show otherwise.

In response to a New York reporter who once asked Edison how it felt to have failed 1,000 times, Edison responded "I have not failed 1,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 1,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work."  

Great innovations have nothing to do with failing fast, often or any other way. To the contrary, they have to do with experimentation towards a higher order goal. The two most important determining factors that influence your experimentation process are 1. how you set each goal and 2. how you manage experimentation. 

When you set any innovation goal, it is more important to elaborate on the true intent of the goal than to just state it. 

By injecting your contextual aspirations for the goal, the team responsible for achieving the goal gets inspired. You or the person in charge of the innovation initiative must be knowledgeable about the subject and be passionate about seeing the project come to life. You are asking your team to “rise to the occasion” and believe in your vision.  How can the team rally behind you if they are just mandated to achieve a goal? They need to understand the reasoning behind it.

Articles have stated that 68% of US employees are not engaged at work. This lack of clear goal setting could be part of the reason.  

A great example of a company that set and effectively communicated a higher order goal is Apple, when they created the iPod. Apple realized that the last thing the world needed was another MP3 player -- there were 43 manufacturers already in the market. What separated Apple was their superior aspirations and their executive ability to inspire the team to drive towards creating a new product that would deliver a great customer experience. 

The hidden weapon of cutting edge innovation, experimentation, has to be managed like a process.

One of the main differences between great innovators and the rest, is that the great innovators have a much better innovation experimentation process which has nothing to do with “failing.” Their strategy is about doing and learning as they iterate closer to success, and realizing their gains through discovery, invention or transformation – the process of innovation. 

For example, some prominent innovators use experimentation tools like TRIZ, a methodology developed by Genrich Altshuller. Great innovators leverage and integrate many different tools to experiment and become better innovators. 

Hopefully now you can see that using effective communication for innovation goals and instituting an experimentation process are key to successful innovation. Each time you move through the experimentation process you will be learning faster and become a better, more effective innovator. 

Much of the popular media on innovation “is like fine perfume, it should be sniffed but not consumed.” Focus instead on building experimentation capability to reach clearly communicated aspirational goals.

Want to learn more about innovation goal setting and managing experimentation like a process?  Click here.



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