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Success Through Failure--The Essence of the art of Innovation.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on July 6, 2006

If you haven’t read the remarkable cover by Jena McGregor in BW called “Eureka, We Failed! How Smart Companies Learn From Their Flops,” get to it now. It’s all about the role of failure in innovation.

One of the best books on the subject is “Success Through Failure,” by Henry Petroski. Here’s a quote from his book that I find most compelling. He’s talking about “the inventors, the engineers, the designers of the world who are forever trying to improve it through the things in it. To these intrepid pioneers of purpose, a failure of any kind is not such much a disappointment as an opportunity. The tweak the things we know to turn them into things we did not even know that we needed.”

Petroski goes on to say “And the single most common characteristic of such creative people is the way in which they view failure. They recognize that a failure not only provides them the opportunity to carry out the process of design and development anew but also enables them to conceive of something new and improved to obviate the triggering failure.”

This is a way of looking at the world that is very difficult in the buttoned-down world of business which is used to driving out all failure, all defects. That is why introducing an innovation culture into a Six-Sigma process control culture is so hard and problematic. But still necessary.

Reader Comments

Daniel Schutzsmith

July 7, 2006 12:50 AM

I remember after the 2004 elections, there was an article somewhere about the failure of Kerry to overthrow the Republicans and how he could learn from it. At that time I was in a much different place in my professional life, and I remember thinking, "how can he learn from it, he failed!" Alas, in the past year, I have realized the power of failing and learning from that failure to make sure it does not happen again. I have also recently seen the power of turning a failure into an opportunity. Like my mother always said, "when one door closes, another one always opens."

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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