innovations ditry little secret

Pastor and author Larry Osborne discusses, in his new book Innovation's Dirty Little Secret, how failure can be your biggest aid when trying to achieve success. By understanding how real success is developed, you can become more stable and creative. Osborne discussed, with us, how to be an innovator.

Do you believe that you must fail first before you can succeed, or do you think that success is possible first try?

I don’t believe we have to fail before we succeed. It’s entirely possible to succeed on the first try. Think of the baseball player who walks up to the plate for his first major league at bat and hits it out of the park. He clearly succeeds before failing. But make no mistake. That’s rare. It won’t be long until he strikes out. No one ever hits a homerun every time. Shoot, no one even hits a single every time.

It’s the same with leadership. Failure isn’t necessary. But it is inevitable. No matter how successful someone or something may be right out of the chute, eventually failure will rear its ugly head. It’s unavoidable. It always shows up.

Successful leaders and serial innovators aren’t surprised by failure. They expect it. They’re well prepared for it. And contrary to what many people think, it’s not their ability to avoid failure that sets them apart – it’s their ability to minimize the impact of their failures.

That’s because they take failure seriously. They know that even with the best of ideas, the odds of failure are high. So they don’t oversell or seek organization-wide buy in on the frontend. Instead, they use the language of experimentation. They try lots of things. But they change very few things. This way, when something doesn’t work out, they can quickly shuck it off as a failed experiment without losing their credibility or leadership chips.

How does corporate culture impact the success or failure of an innovation?

Corporate culture has a huge impact upon innovation. Some cultures foster it. Some accelerate it. And some kill it off at first sight.

Corporate culture is simply the sum total of an organization’s actions. It’s what we value and how we behave. It doesn’t always match up to the slogans on the wall. It matches up to what we do.

In fact, many pundits have noted that the policies down the hall always trump the vision plastered on the wall, Behavioral patterns are hard to break. Corporate culture always wins. The worst corporate culture for innovation is a highly risk-averse organization. Ironically, excessive risk aversion is most commonly found at two opposite ends of the spectrum: organizations that are highly successful and those scarred by a history of major failures.

One says, “We never fail – it’s unacceptable.” The other says, “We can’t fail again – it might kill us.” Though they come at it from different angles, both unwittingly lock out future success by trying to eliminate any chance of future failure.

It’s easy to recognize excessive risk-aversion. The telltale mark is an obsession with data and facts. Risk-averse organizations always want one more study. They always need just a little more data. Before giving the green light to a new idea, they want absolute proof that it will work. But that kills innovation. There is no way to come up with enough hard data or proof that something that hasn’t been done before will work. At best we can show a decent probability of success.

This is why risk-averse organizations always end up success adverse. They resist change and innovation until it’s too late. Only after everyone else has adopted something do they have enough proof to move forward.

There are also cultures that foster innovation. They’re the hotbeds of creativity and cutting edge programming.

You can recognize them by their radically different response to a new idea. Instead of saying, “Prove it,” they start out by saying, “Why not?” They look for reasons to say, yes, rather than reasons to say, no. They like to try things and see what happens. However, it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean that they try things on a grand scale. Corporate cultures that foster innovation try new ideas on a small scale. They experiment so that their failures can be jettisoned quickly. They don’t put the whole organization at risk to see if something will work.

If it’s not broken, should you still try to fix it? Or is that reading too deep into a scenario?