on March 27, 2015 Innovation Culture Innovation Management

Why the World's Most Innovative Leaders Celebrate Failure

If you want to create breakthrough ideas, first you have to break some stuff in the process. I'm not talking about the "oopsie daisy, I stepped on chewing gum" mis-step, either. One recurring theme inside innovative organizations is an understanding of how important it is to fail. This shared value usually comes straight from the top.

The leaders we revere for their successes have had huge wins because they've had huge fails... and learned from them. The very reason why they were able to discover opportunities for disruptive innovation is because they weren't afraid to try.

If you want to succeed as an innovation leader, you have to develop more than just a resiliency in the face of failure. Here are some quick examples of how leaders at companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, and 3M do more than just withstand failure - they celebrate it.

1. Gopi Kallayil, Google

“There is no stigma against failing. There is a belief in the company that if you don’t fail often enough, you’re not trying hard enough.” For Google, failure is a “badge of honour.” Google has overcome the failure of many products, including Buzz, Gears, Panoramio and Wave.

When Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was Google’s VP of Search Products and User Experience, she referred to this ethos as their “launch early and often” strategy. “Our iterative process often teaches us invaluable lessons,” explained Google’s then SVP of Advertising, Susan Wojcicki, in a Google Insights article from 2011, titled, The 8 Pillars of Innovation:

“Watching users ‘in the wild’ as they use our products is the best way to find out what works, then we can act on that feedback. It’s much better to learn these things early and be able to respond than to go too far down the wrong path.”

2. Steve Jobs, Apple

The famed Steve Job's list of products failures includes the Apple Lisa, Apple III, ROKR, Macintosh TV, and MobileMe.  “I’m the only person I know that’s lost a quarter of a billion dollars in one year…It’s very character-building." 

3. Richard Branson, Virgin

"Business opportunities are like buses, there's always another one coming."

If there's anyone out there who knows what it's like to start a company, it's Richard Branson. He's launched more than 100 companies in his lifetime. In an article in Entrepreneur, Branson spoke candidly, as he often does, about his failures. "I consider our cola venture to be one of the biggest mistakes we ever made -- but I still wouldn’t change a thing."

4. Richard Carlton, 3M

“Our company has, indeed, stumbled onto some of its new products. But never forget that you can only stumble if you’re moving.”

3M was literally birthed from failure. The company began with the intention of mining corundum for grinding wheels. Turned out, conundrum wouldn't work for that. The company embraced the challenge and their hard work paid off with their first breakthrough innovation: Wetordry sandpaper. 

5. James Dyson, Dyson

"Enjoy failure and learn from it. You can never learn from success."

One way companies are getting product out faster is by using rapid prototyping. Prototypes allow you to get your idea in front of people faster. This can make it easier to get feedback necessary to make the changes needed to bring the product to market. James Dyson is no stranger to the power of prototypes. He made more than 5,100 prototypes of the Dyson Vacuum Cleaner before getting it right.

6. Jeff Bezos, Amazon

“I’ve made billions of dollars of failures at Amazon.com. Literally.”

Wired magazine used Amazon's struggles in the smartphone market to highlight how innovators must be unfazed by failure. 2014 brought skyrocketing smartphone sales for Apple and Samsung, but Amazon's Fire Phone launched in July with little fanfare and hit a selling price of 99 cents by September. The company faced $437 million in Q3 losses an an $83 million inventory of unsold phones. Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos, was personally in charge of the project for more than a year. But he was not discouraged. For Bezos, this is just part of the business. He's weathered failures in the past, including a $60 million investment in shampoo delivery service Kozmo.com and $175 million investment in LivingSocial.

Keep shooting for the stars

Hopefully, these stories keep you motivated in your journey towards creating something new. We all fail, but it's the ones who keep going that make it to the finish line.

Chad Reynolds

Chad Reynolds is the Founder of Batterii, a collaboration platform designed to help teams create better experiences. Over the past 15 years, Chad has worked with brands like Adidas, GE Healthcare, Nike and Procter & Gamble to re-imagine their brand experiences for the next generation of consumers.