Can one innovate without making mistakes? For us, the more important question should be, how can one make mistakes as soon as possible? In this article, we explore the importance of mistakes as a key element in the process of innovation.
A mistake is to innovate
The fear around mistakes usually paralyzes people.Mistakes unchain a reaction of cerebral activity that is associated with a group of neurons called “mistake neurons”*. When a person makes a mistake, our brains light up with a sequence of reactions that seek to “codify” information more deeply and begin an adventure to try and solve the problem.
Organizations made up of people who are afraid to make mistakes, use mistake prevention as a central strategy to face the problem. Nonetheless, today a way to innovate is: make many cheap mistakes, to learn, iterate and pivot rapidly, and in this way gradually achieve implementation and validation with users. Innovation processes are intrinsically uncertain and chaotic because the information is initially scarce, and the problems we want to solve are large and high impact… The mistake is the key. Are our teams, mindsets and our work culture ready for this?
To err is human, it is to learn, to activate our resolution centers to create. To err is to innovate.
Opportunities in mistakes
The founder of Honda, Soichiro Honda, described it very well: “Success is 99% failure”. One idea is 1% of the solution and to impact thousands or millions of people, we must start with one, ten, or one hundred, understanding that most will fail. The more agile we are trying, learning and unlearning, the faster we will come up against the right solution.
Many companies had to make mistakes repeatedly before reaching success and a great factor to achieve exceptional results was to innovate by co-creating with users. Companies that have the capacity to detect opportunities in mistakes put their users on center stage, observe what it is that they want, what attributes are necessary and which aren’t, but always leveraged with innovation processes that allow the movement of the limits of what is expected, of what is known, getting out of the box and creating genuine value.
This was the case with Slack that started as a company called Tiny Speck, created by a game called Glitch. The game itself was a failure and closed in 2012. Nonetheless, an aspect of the game that held up was the functionality of the interactive and colourful chat that the players and users employed. Once Glitch officially closed and the team realized that they had a powerful collaboration tool in their hands, the Slack app was launched in 2013. Slack grew quickly and the company went public in 2019.
The imperative mistake
In order to actively allow ourselves to make mistakes, we must create a healthy mistake culture in our teams.
After many years of supporting teams in their transformation towards a mistake culture, after many experiences, hypotheses and iterations, we understood the pillars to achieve a deep transformation.
- Teams must be motivated by the desire to learn instead of a fear of failure.
- Leaders must favour scenes where the error takes place, rewarding bravery and promoting the hypothesis proofs in safe environments.
- An appropriate error process strategy must be created for each team, using methods, techniques and adequate instruments to create the added value of innovative ideas and solutions to be implemented.
Discarded prototypes - Fast and cheap trial and error
Innovation is perceived as risky because any new process is susceptible to mistakes. The way that mistakes are processed in organizations to be related to their capacity for innovation and their management of mistake culture. With this culture, organizations can manage to segment larger and more complex problems into parts, by actively involved members, by MVPs that validate what really adds value and what doesn’t.
Understanding that organizations can create contrast by maintaining prevention culture or if they transform to adopt (at least partly) a mistake processing culture and in this way innovate, we invite you to take courage and transform the culture to make innovation viable.
We want to collaborate with your team to make mistakes into added value. Do you want to talk?