Innovators don’t fail they just find lots of ways not to do things…

Recently I shared my third book in the past three years about Innovation. In that book I postulated that there are types of innovation and innovators. There are environments that support and nurture innovation and environments that kill innovation before it grows.

I watch the ebb and flow of the “innovation” conversation and I wonder. Innovation isn’t technology. Innovation isn’t just or always change. Innovation can be a small incremental step to a better way of doing things. There was once a hospital administrator that decreed all doctors shall wash their hands upon leaving the morgue (where they were examine how the human body worked) and the second time before they worked with a patient. The mortality rate of mothers giving birth in the hospital dropped radically. A simple process based innovation that was adopted by hospitals and doctors around the world resulting in a lowered mortality rate.

Innovation can be process change. The simple act of getting people to look at things differently. Innovation can also be a change in the way something is used. Originally Coca was used as a drink. People played around with the bitter drink and eventually Chocolate was born. It was a use of something that existed by in the end doing it differently.

Induction cook tops are a change in the way we cook, it is technology making the change but it is modifying the underlying heating model rather than the how we cook. Its an innovation in that it provides greater control to the chef than is possible  with other traditional electric burners. (Gas provides the most control in the hands of a Chef.).

Innovation as I say in the book can big, small, technology and it can be process based. It can simply move a dial one level to the left. Or it can complexly create a field of IoT devices connected together to produce a body of information to be consumed.

The explosion of IoT opens a range of innovation potential that is exciting but we should not forget that sometimes innovation is about doing things differently and sometimes it just about changing one little bit of what we are doing to get in the end different results.

That leads me, albeit a long and winding road to get there to the topic that set off my discussion this morning. Innovation and Innovators don’t fail. As Thomas Edison said brilliantly I didn’t fail 300+ times on my way to the light bulb I found 300+ ways not to do it. People constantly throw out the “failed innovation” man hole cover like it is nothing. It is something. In fact it is why innovators often sneak off and don’t tell people about their ideas until they are done. The reality of a cultural backlash (failure) is considerable.

Let us return 10,000 years to the time humans were living in caves and beginning to build structures to live in that were not caves. they did so because one of them at some point had found fire. They didn’t create fire they simply realized its value. Sometimes innovation is realizing value that is already there. It is however never failure.

So when you see a post or a blog Talking about an innovation failure, smile wryly and post it wasn’t a a failure it was simply part of the discovery process. “How not to do that.”


Scott Andersen

IASA Fellow.