Accidental chains of events have fueled many great developments throughout history. Dr. Alexander Fleming is considered the father of antibiotics, but his discovery of penicillin could have been told as the story of a sloppy scientist too excited about going on vacation to even do his dishes (petri dishes in this case) in a timely manner. Inc Magazine notes this and another 8 examples of great failures in their article “9 Brilliant Inventions Made by Mistake”.
We need to understand that mistakes and failure are irreplaceable organizational hormones required to spur and modulate both innovation and growth at a personal level, at an organizational level, and even at a national level.
Mishaps shape us as individuals throughout or lives. Joe Boyd of Rebelpilgrim perfectly captures the essence of the pricelessness of failure in our personal journey in his TEDx Cincinnati talk “Failure is the Key to Success”. He captures the essence of his discourse in what immediately became one of my favorite quotes “Failure is the only currency by which you buy two things you cannot get any other way: wisdom and humility”.
In organizations, we need to comprehend that mistakes can be positive symptoms of an environment where established limits are being pushed and disperse dots are being connected to understand new horizons. Failures without beheadings are also a positive symptom of an organization in which there is authenticity and trust, which make risk taking and failing not only acceptable, but understood to be foundational to innovation. Failing forward is a concept our organizations need to adopt and embrace to promote entrepreneurship within their walls.
“A culture that believes that it is better to ask forgiveness afterward rather than permission before, that rewards people for success but gives them permission to fail, has removed one of the main obstacles to the formation of new ideas.”
–Tim Brown, Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation
Maybe it’s time to take advice from FailForward.org, and start writing annual failure reports!
At the national level, we have all heard ample discourse about The US being (or not) the best country in the world (with Aaron Sorkin’s heart swelling piece to kick off The Newsroom being one of my favorites). What made the US great was not fear of erring, and striving to live in the middle of the road. We were hungry; we were daring pioneers, accustomed to making mistakes, and masterful at learning from them and failing forward. No blame, no regret, our only understanding of finger pointing was an index finger signaling beyond the horizon and charting a course toward unchartered possibility.
Now is the time to go forth and be fearless. It is the time to push limits and learn from our failures. It is time to build bold organizations where daring individuals innovate constantly, fearlessly pioneering the rebirth of a country of greatness, setting the foundations for a sustainable world which generations to come can innovate in.