Innovation: Learning from Failure

Learning from FailureMany people look at failure as a complete negative. I like to think of failures as the route to innovation. The keys to innovation from failure are to have a culture around dealing with and accepting failures, failing fast, and learning from the failure. So how do we go about learning from failure?

The culture to deal with and accept failures creates a feedback loop of learning.

With a proper feedback loop this mindset of experimenting, expecting failures, and being ready to deal with and learn from the failures results in innovation. Success is often on the other side of failure and to foster this culture of being ready for failure and accepting failures will result in a more innovative workforce. Failures as the result from taking innovative risks should not be punished but rewarded. People must take risks to innovate and people will not innovate if they fear failure.

When trying new experiments it is best to fail fast.

With experimentation and pushing the boundaries you can expect more failures than successes. The faster you can close that feedback loop the faster you can iterate and innovate. Many modern organizations find this kind of innovation in their IT/Operations departments. One notable example is Netflix and their systems built to purposely cause failure in their system infrastructures (I’m sure some have heard of chaos monkey). Chaos Monkey was built to quickly find weaknesses in the Netflix system. Failing fast allows Netflix the ability to catch flaws which can result in downtime before these flaws pop up organically at some unforseen time. When Chaos Monkey finds a catastrophe in the making the Netflix team moves to collect data and mitigate the failure in the future. Failing quickly allows organizations to find the root cause of problems and adjust their strategy.

It’s only failing if you learned nothing.

After closing the feedback loop quickly proper information and data should be extracted from your failure. This is what blossoms failures into innovation. It’s important to learn something from your failures, as Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” The only reason a failure should be considered a real failure is when nothing is learned or taken away from the failure. Make sure to collect actionable data and metrics during any experimentation.

Startups pivot off of failures, like Twitter from a podcasting and audio platform to the 140 character behemoth it is today. Large companies innovate from their failures more incrementally, like Apple with the many platforms that didn’t quite become an ipod or iphone. To be truly innovative you have to be willing to accept failures, fail quickly, and have the ability to learn from your failures.

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