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Why the best things come to those who make mistakes and can talk about it

Why the best things come to those who make mistakes and can talk about it

So if you have read a lot of books on innovation like me then you will be well acquainted with the school of thought that making mistakes is not just a good thing but absolutely essential. When we look with the benefit of hindsight through the vast number of case studies on the subject whether in fields of science or consumer brands, breakthroughs rarely happen without a succession of failures. Meaning that the key to successful innovation is much more likely to be born from a deeply practical process of trial and error, combined with a spirit of playfulness, curiosity and commitment to learn and continually do better, than it is sitting on coloured bean bags blue sky thinking. As Mr Dyson says “failures feed the imagination, you can’t have one without the other”. For me there is a fundamental truth that getting to the heart of the issue and the willingness to make mistakes in the pursuit of solving it builds corporate insight and wisdom which if captured and shared with others, drives transformation.

Makes sense but in reality easier to say than do. Particularly when our ego either individually or corporately is tied up with looking good. Getting to the heart of the issue means admitting you have one in the first place, whether this be as a team, organisation or industry. And in my experience it can be surprisingly hard for some at the very top (or those aspiring to be promoted by them) to admit. As one referral told me last week “I saw your website and what you do, the thing is we don’t have an issue” … and then went on to share very honestly about the insights, feedback and issues she was picking up. In essence the company is hitting plan and therefore does not have an issue with the numbers, which is great and of course a very tangible marker of success. However under the surface she could see there were people issues bubbling up which if not addressed could well impact future success should some of their top talent decide to leave. She could see something that some of the Board could not. The challenge for her being how to both land the feedback and support the Board to become more attuned to their people and what was going well and what was not, going forward.

Transformation of any kind including innovation I think is inextricably linked to truth telling: the openness to proactively seek out what is not working alongside what is clearly brilliant. Combined with the willingness to share honestly and freely so that others might learn and collectively do better. Pragmatic, gritty, real, imperfect and at times uncomfortable as a process but so worth the result.

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