Don’t Be Afraid to be Innovative
Published: December 10, 2010
As I reflect back over this year and look forward to the next, I keep coming back to one of my favorite quotes by Thomas Edison: “To have a great idea, have a lot of them.” In order to grow, you have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone and take chances. In business, this philosophy is a somewhat controversial method I’ve employed for years called “fast failure.”
The goal of fast failure is simple: to create innovation and growth. It’s a cultural movement that empowers people to implement new ideas – to really push the envelope and try something different. But if the idea doesn’t work, you pull the plug and quickly move on rather than trying to salvage something to the detriment of customers, team members and the business.
Big companies employ this method all the time when they launch a new product in the marketplace. If sales tank within a set period of time, they pull the product off the shelf rather than let it collect dust, turn off buyers and permanently damage the brand (think New Coke). But I have found that fast failure is rarely used in the services industry, perhaps because it requires a certain comfort level with taking risks.
I believe fast failure can work in both established companies and start-ups. In order for it to be successful, you have to build an environment of open communication and collaboration where team members feel comfortable generating a lot of ideas. Then you take action – launch the new service or pilot program – establish the goals for success early and measure them often.
The tricky part about this method is to be objective and not fall in love with an idea, because you need to be decisive about whether or not it’s time to kill it. If the pilot program works, that’s great! If not, pull the plug, learn from the mistake and move on to the next idea. Don’t dwell on the failure, but rather celebrate the concept of innovation as a team.
People often ask if I have ever regretted using the fast failure model. The only thing I regret is not pulling the plug fast enough, whether it was a business investment or service offering.