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Handling the defeat in the Innovation (III): Responsibility and Learning
April 11, 2011  |  by Juan Cano-Arribí  |  Innovation by Objectives, Innovation Culture, Risk management

After some interspersed posts, I bring you the last of the series of failure management on innovation. In the previous one we saw the first two of the four lines of action we can take to manage the failure in advance. Here are the other two:

Learning protocols

It’s also suitable to realize a systematic reflection on the causes of failure, areas to improve next time and further learning. A technique as simple as popular is the “After Action Analysis”, very useful if done when the failure just occurred. To sum up it’s about answering the following four questions: What did we expect to happen? (shows misalignments between actions and our initial objective); What did really happen? (avoid personalize; keep focused on the facts); What has caused the gap between the two previous answers? (facts again, avoiding hasty conclusions), and finally, What we know now that allows us to do it better in future projects? (be specific, get assimilate lessons learned and share them with the rest of the company).

I know many of you know this well, although refreshing doesn’t hurt.

Responsibility, not blame

Allocate responsibility means that you trust someone to get something. Accept responsibility means a commitment to make what is necessary to achieve the goal. This does not always imply that it will succeed, but the persons have been true to reality and the project have been developed responsibly, have been identified and resolved as uncertainties as possible, the risks associated have been revised and accepted (or not) consciously, and in case of failure have been executed contingency plan and learned from the mistakes (and successes). Whether the innovation process has been carried out correctly and despite this has not been successful, you need to know that what has failed is the project and not the people involved in it. Encourage the people that has realized a good innovation process to keep on trying because they are going to generate significant innovations in your company.

By contrast, if management reacts to the failures by searching for culprits, people will lose any desire to take the risks inherent in an innovation project and then the innovative ability is inhibited. As Gary Hamel said very graphicly (I quote from memory, not verbatim),

“If you treat the same way a person who has led a ‘sure bet’ of 20% and who has led another sure bet of 99%, your organization will soon consist of timid mice. It’s quite likely that anyone who runs a highly risky speculative project will fail. But who runs an incremental project in a well established business should not ever fail. However, rarely makes that distinction.”

(extract of the article that I published
in nº364 of the sectorial magazine Técnica Cerámica)



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