Want to Build a Culture of Experimentation? Embrace Failure First

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Failure. It’s not something all business leaders are comfortable embracing, yet it’s integral to success. That’s because failure signals attempt - and without those undertakings, none of the world’s greatest inventions would have ever come to fruition.

So when company leaders decide they want to cultivate a culture of experimentation within their company, it’s important they understand the value of embracing failure. It’s not only a great way to learn, but it will also help leaders discover what they’re missing, build an immunity to fear, and instill an entrepreneurial spirit amongst the team.

Read on to learn more about how failure can play an important role in building a culture of experimentation.

What is a culture of experimentation?

Simply put, a culture of experimentation is a company-wide focus on the research and development of new products, services, and ideas.

Companies who’ve integrated this mindset into their culture not only encourage, but rely, on their team members to develop new ideas. Sometimes that includes a formal experimentation process where departments submit ideas on a consistent basis. Other times, it’s an informal rolling acceptance of new concepts.

Regardless, what all of these companies have in common is their encouragement of team members to generate and share options for company growth. However, with that encouragement comes an important need to embrace failure.

The importance of failure

No one wants to fail, but oftentimes, failure is the pathway to success. When it comes to experimentation, failure is bound to happen. In order to encourage team members to test new ideas, it’s vital that company leaders are willing to accept mistakes as well.

Failure is important for three key reasons: knowledge, resilience, and growth.

Missteps can provide a wealth of knowledge to those affected. Every time a team member tests a new theory, they learn something new, even if they don’t succeed. With each of those experiences comes knowledge gained. Some of the world’s greatest inventions take dozens of tries. Take Thomas Edison and the light bulb for example - it took him 10,000 failed attempts before he eventually found success.

Resilience is another positive outcome of failure. Team members who recognize the reality of experimentation - meaning they realize it may take several attempts to get something right - are setting themselves up for success. The pain of failure will be softened a bit by their upfront realization, and they will become a stronger individual for it.

Those who are granted the opportunity to fail without punishment will also recognize the tremendous amount of growth that comes from failure. After each defeat comes a period of reflection. This will help team members grow as both individuals and as professionals.

The intersection of failure and experimentation

A company who successfully fosters a culture of experimentation involves leaders who are willing to not only forgive, but to encourage, failure. Oftentimes, it takes a great amount of courage and determination for team members to bring their ideas forward and subject them to critique. Leaders should encourage their team to pursue new ideas, regardless of outcome.

To further encourage the fearless pursuit of new ideas, leaders should find ways to reward team members who led a new experiment.

For example, present an award to an individual who had the best failed experiment at monthly all-company meetings. This may seem odd initially, but even the smallest of appreciations can go a long way in encouraging team members to continue experimenting.

Failure can be difficult to embrace, but in order to build a culture of experimentation, it’s essential company leaders allow their team members to freely pursue new ideas without the fear of punishment that comes from failure. After all, some of the world’s best inventions and entrepreneurs once failed.

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      As the South Bend - Elkhart Region celebrates a $42.4 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., we know that the work to make the best investment with it is really just beginning. The spirit of entrepreneurship has been a vibrant part of our region for decades and the story of our family company could be somewhat of a guidebook for the region as it ventures forward. ITAMCO began as a dream of my uncle Donald Neidig and my father Noble Neidig to have their own business.

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