Learning from Your Failed Business Innovation Projects

Brene Brown, best-selling author and scholar, is quoted as saying: “There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.”

While that statement is easy to comprehend intellectually, the reality of it is somewhat difficult to truly embrace. Humans, despite a capacity for spectacular success, are just as apt to fail as not, and the fact is … failure is just no fun. Humans are hard-wired to aim at success, and environmentally conditioned to use everything at their disposal to achieve it.

Failure is part of the process toward success.
Failure is part of the process toward success.

A Shift in Perspective

However, rather than looking at failure as the opposite of success, the more realistic view is to consider it a step in the process of success. Thomas Edison took this realistic view. He said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

Winston Churchill went a step further. He said: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

While each of these quotes makes for a great plaque for your office wall, are the concepts behind them really sound? Is failure of genuine use in innovation?

Learning to Fail toward Success

Of itself, failure has no intrinsic value. It is only in one’s attitude about it, one’s perception of it, that failure becomes truly valuable. Failure is a teacher only to a willing student. However, for those willing to be students, failure can teach much.

Here are some major benefits of embracing failure with the aim of success:

1) Failure necessitates change.

Entreprenuer’s “Failure is the Seed of Growth and Success” notes: “Failure can act as a seed for two things: a road to despair or a springboard to growth. What grows out of the initial failure is entirely up to the person who ‘failed’.”

Failure is often abrupt, soul-startling, and breathtakingly painful. But it is in the ashes of one’s shattered expectations that seeds of innovation germinate. Leaders, and companies, who do not heed the lessons taught by failure ultimately lack the tools for sustainable success.

2) Failure builds essential qualities for success.

Everyone succeeds occasionally. But those who are consistently successful achieve success by possessing certain fundamental qualities, which can be learned through the process of failure, such as:

• resilience
• persistence
• courage
• confidence
• humility
• openness
• empathy

3) Failure lends balance to success.

Learning how to fail with grace and avoid slipping into a quagmire of fear and defeat teaches one how to succeed with grace and dignity. Jeremy Bloom, author of “Fueled by Failure”, observes: “I believe the happiest and most successful athletes and business execs are the ones who are exceptional at taking the highs and the lows in stride and don’t allow them to define the strength of their confidence.”

Understanding that neither your failures nor your successes define you as a person (or define your organization) will help you extract the essential life lessons from your experiences without negatively impacting your potential for growth.

4) Failure illuminates underlying issues.

When everything is going along well, it is easy to be swept along in the euphoria of success. And that is normal. Who doesn’t like success?

However, it is failure that tugs at one’s thought processes. The review of the steps that led to failure shines light on challenges and issues unanticipated prior to failure. The good news is that the light stays with you and illuminates your future efforts, making success much more likely.

Business Innovation Failures

Of necessity, business is about innovation. Without innovation, there is stagnation. When your business innovations fail, however, there is no need to internalize the failure as part of your company culture. Embrace it, learn the lessons it teaches, and then let it go. After all, you have more important matters to address, such as tomorrow’s innovation.