Formalize Forums For Failure To keep failures and the valuable lessons they offer from getting swept under the rug, carve out time for reflection. GE has recently begun sharing lessons from failures by bringing together managers whose “Imagination Breakthrough” efforts are put on the shelf.
Move The Goalposts Innovation requires flexibility in meeting goals, since early predictions are often little more than educated guesses. Intuit’s Scott Cook even suggests that teams developing new products ignore forecasts in the early days. “For every one of our failures, we had spreadsheets that looked awesome,” he says.
Share Personal Stories If employees hear leaders discussing their own failures, they’ll feel more comfortable talking about their own. But it’s not just the CEO’s job—front-line leaders are even more important, says Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson. “That person needs to be inviting, curious, and the first to say: ‘I made a mistake.’ ”
Bring In Outsiders Outsiders can help neutralize the emotions and biases that prop up a flop. Customers can be the most valuable. After its DNA chip failed, Corning brought pharma companies in early to test its new drug-discovery technology, Epic.
Prove Yourself Wrong, Not Right The tendency for development teams is to look for supporting, rather than countervailing, evidence. “You have to reframe what you're seeking in the early days,” says Innosight’s Scott Anthony. “You’re not really seeking proof that you have the right answer. It’s more about testing to prove yourself wrong.”
Celebrate Smart Failures Managers should design performance-management systems that reward risk-taking and foster a long-term view. But they should also celebrate failures that teach something new, energizing people to try again and offering them closure.

A Formula for Failure

It’s innovation’s great paradox: Success—that is, true breakthroughs—usually comes through failure.

How to help your team get comfortable with taking risks and learning from their mistakes.

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