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Failure as a Path to Success

In a world that celebrates success, the idea of rewarding failure may seem counterintuitive. Failure and the learning that comes from it from it are essential ingredients of success, something that innovative organizations understand. They create environments where failure is expected and the only “true failure” is a failure to learn when things don’t go as planned.

Throughout history, innovators and enlightened leaders have observed that failure begets success. “The fastest way to succeed is to double your error rate,” said Thomas J. Watson, founder of IBM, a company Fortune recently ranked one of the most innovative. “Success is 99 percent failure,” legendary car builder Soichiro Honda said.

I write and speak often about how organizations can create a culture of innovation.   Encouraging appropriate risk-taking is an important dimension of an innovative culture and organizations struggle with how to create environments where employees can learn from failure.  How can they take small, safe risks or even big and bold ones, but in controlled ways?

To an innovator, “Oh, that will never work” may be the five worst words in the English language. Few things chill innovation more than people who reject new ideas in their infancy. Innovative organizations understand the dynamics of failure – not only why people fear failure, but also why it’s important.  They value failure because of what they can learn from it. Employees are expected to take intelligent risks and are given the “air cover” from leadership to risk failure.

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