“Better Ideas Through Failure,” is the title of an article in a recent Wall Street Journal. Those of us in human resources have known for years that people can learn from mistakes and that innovation comes from taking risks and making mistakes. Yet when someone does make a mistake they are made to feel bad rather than patted on the back for trying.
I agree with Judy Estrin, a founder of seven high tech companies and author of a book on innovation when she says, “Failure, and how companies deal with failure, is a very big part of innovation.” I’m happy to see that companies such as Grey New York are handing out “Heroic Failure” awards to employees who try something that was worth trying and fail and learn from their failure.
For Baby Boomers like myself, trying something new was not encouraged – in school, especially Catholic school, or in the workplace. If you made a mistake it was usually the blame game rather than owning up to it.
For me, the younger generation – the Millennials and those coming up behind them – have learned to embrace failure from the day they were given their first computer or iPhone on which they could play games. James Gee, a professor at Arizona State University believes that a well-designed game allows players to explore and try new things. In fact, as Gee says, “in a game, failure is a good thing.”
Organizations could learn from playing games and lower the cost of failure and encourage employees to explore and play with ideas. To quote Gee once again, “that type of learning – risk taking – can’t happen if the cost of failure is too high.” So, corporate America, perhaps it’s time to starting playing games!