The September 27, 2011, issue of The Wall Street Journal had a good article on how companies can be more creative, titled Better Ideas Through Failure. The main ideas of this article—to allow risk taking, to be tolerant of failure, and even to reward failure—will be familiar to followers of this blog & podcast.
The article discusses that if you feel your employees are getting more conservative, perhaps slower, playing it safe in order to not make mistakes, and you want more innovation, then you must realize that higher innovation also involves more failures, so you need to tolerate and even encourage and reward risk taking and the inevitable failures that come with it. I think an analogy can be found in baseball, in which the home run kings are also the strike-out kings (or at least can be—don’t hold me to baseball stats).
The idea here is not to reward just any failure (don’t reward failure as the result of laziness of sloppiness, for example), but to reward “Heroic Failure”, for taking a big, edgy risk. Likewise, this kind of failure is not to be hidden, but to be shared, discussed, and learned from (a tuition of sorts).
The article gave some other ways companies try to foster innovation:
- No meeting times or days
- Creating a team or a division for innovations
- Game or nap rooms
- Art-filled atriums
- Hiking trails
- Meditation rooms
- Limiting teams to a small number, like 5 people
- Encouraging trust and open communication and discussion
The article also had a sidebar on other facets of creativity:
- Being last in the family, as opposed to the first-born, tends to help in being more creative
- Being aggressive, egocentric, or antisocial helps in being creative, while being resistant to change or giving up easily tends to inhibit creativity
- Taking time off and letting ideas gel helps creativity, whereas working doggedly on a goal tends to inhibit creativity
- Having the freedom to take risks, working on a variety of assignments, and multiple projects at once helps creativity, while pressure to play it safe will have the opposite effect