Increasing initiative and innovation

Video 9: Want to increase innovation? Celebrate the failures! People will only innovate if failure does not cost them their reputation.


How do you increase initiative and innovation in a team? Joyita has a very clear and simple rule for this. To increase innovation, lower the cost of failure. Let’s think about that means. When people innovate, when they have ideas, stupid ideas, good ideas, mediocre ideas, you must make sure that the cost of a bad idea is zero, that there’s no penalty for a mistake.

When you lower the cost of failure, you must lower the physical cost, the cost of running a computer, the cost of testing something, building something. But you must even more reduce the organizational and reputational cost. Those who try something and fail, if their reputation is harmed, they will never try to innovate again and nobody else will. But if you make it acceptable to fail, and if you even celebrate failure, people know that there’s no cost to failing. So they might as well try. The more you try, the more ideas and innovation you will have.

Although you are not trying to create failure, you must celebrate failure. Because when you celebrate it and when you, as the boss, when show your appreciation for those who try, then others will see that it’s an acceptable and even recommendable activity. And they will do the same, and you will get more innovation in your group.

You must be completely committed to it. It can’t be faked. It must be completely genuine all the way from the top down.

To get more initiative in general, you need to get decision-making pushed out in the organization. You need to lift up people and give them the credit or the audience, the attention, the funding that they need to follow their own initiatives. Because most of the time the best ideas and the best initiatives come up from employees. It’s not the bosses who come up with the great ideas. It’s those who do the day-to-day work.

One example that I’ve used in my own work in a couple of companies. Instead of when we get everybody together for an all-hands meeting, instead of having this long, very serious, strategic presentations by the CEO (and I have made a few of them myself so I’m a sinner here as anybody else), instead we said “let’s do the whole all-hands meeting in form of lightning talks, eight minutes long, no shorter really and definitely no longer”.

When you divide the day into eight-minute slots, anybody can speak. We said anybody can speak about anything that’s close to their heart. It can be business-related, doesn’t have to be business-related, can be ready, can be something that’s mid-flight or not ready preliminary. People just spoke about whatever they liked and only eight minutes.

Then, you give them the attention for what they are doing. They can hear, see the reaction of the audience. You are again reducing the cost of failure. Because if one lightning talk is bad, it’s just eight minutes lost time. But if a CEO is speaking for two hours about strategy, that can be boring.

While I do think strategy deserves more than eight minutes to be clear. But I hope you get the point by letting everybody speak up. You get the whole new level of initiative-taking among regular employees, who feel encouraged and inspired to do something that they believe in.


Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply