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CHRISTIAN: How are innovative mind-sets created?

May 30, 2015

innovation-sig-christian-justin.jpgMy daughter recently wrote a paper for sixth-grade English in which she said, “Every time you make a mistake your brain grows a little bit larger.” By this analysis, I should look like a bobble-head doll.

While I am fairly certain the physical size of our brains does not increase with every misstep, I can state with confidence that the lessons that come from these failures make us stronger. Our failures help drive us toward future successes.

As children, we are pushed to take risks and make mistakes—so that we learn to rebound from these failures and grow. In my experience, the try-fail-rebound-learn cycle my daughter hinted at in her middle-school paper is an iterative process that is encouraged at today’s most innovative businesses.

In the fiercely competitive and interconnected business environment, customers should demand excellence at all levels. But countless examples of business successes are the by-product of mistakes, blunders and miscalculations. An employee who encounters a dead end while experimenting with a new idea should be embraced and encouraged.

Dale Carnegie, who is renowned for developing corporate training courses, said, “The successful man will profit from his mistakes and try again in a different way.” High-performing, innovative companies should strive to embrace operational excellence balanced with an acceptance of trial-and-error learning as an ingredient for success.

This cultural balance allows corporations to operate at a high level while fostering an environment of learning and continual improvement. This corporate culture is frequently seen in high-performing startups.

As companies mature, the tolerance for mistakes and failures often declines rapidly. Managers are encouraged to innovate but, at the same time, are pressed to reduce error rates to fractions of a percent. We cannot expect perfectionism while cultivating innovation and creativity. Are we leaders sending our team members mixed messages?

Corporations have adopted several innovation frameworks to help create desired cultures. One consistent practice that I adopted in my company is a recognition that innovative ideas can come from any part of the organization. A truly innovative work culture requires that all employees, no matter their rank and title, are encouraged to be a part of the innovation life cycle.

As business leaders, it is our responsibility to create a framework that demands excellence while recognizing that the education that comes from our setbacks is a key component to our ability to innovate.

Like the child whose brain develops when a mistake is made, our organizations can become more innovative if they embrace a process of trial and error.•

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Christian is founder and CEO of BCforward.

Check out the rest of IBJ's 2015 Innovation Issue.

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