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Failures due to planning or failures due to uncertainty?

Innovation depends on experiments and learning from failures
Learn from your failures. Image by yogesh more from Pixabay

In life failures fall into one of two types; one because we didn’t plan and two because of uncertainty. Let me do a simple illustration.

We know very clearly that if you leave BKC at 6AM you will reach airport in about 20 minutes. But if we leave at 6 PM it would take 45 minutes. Now if you wanted to reach the airport by 6:30PM but started at 6PM that’s a failure of planning. However if you wanted to reach at 6:30 AM, left at 6 AM, but your car had a puncture and you reached only at 6:50 AM , that’s a failure of uncertainty.

In business we have a similar challenge, if you don’t plan, you will most likely fail. However, if you plan well, your failure is only due to uncertainty.

Now, with routine business, something that you excel in, the uncertainties are quite predictable and can be handled. A lot of best practices are available and your organization knowledge should help you overcome uncertainty. Even with poor planning many a times you can succeed.

However, when it comes to innovation, you are dealing with uncertainties. You are in the domain of unknowns and can’t be sure of the risks.

Now if your growth is dependent on innovation, you have plenty of things to consider.

  1. What should innovation deliver for the organization?

  2. How does it fit into the corporate strategy?

  3. What are the strategic direction for innovation?

  4. How do I engage the organization?

  5. How will we execute the innovation agenda?

  6. Do we have the capabilities; competencies, process, structure, tools and resources?

All of these are part of planning innovation. Failure to plan can potentially have disastrous consequences for the innovation effort.

On the other hand, innovation also has risk of failure arising from the uncertain nature of innovation. It’s important that organizations consider these elements

  1. How do we document the learning from failures? How do we eliminate the fear of failure?

  2. How do we ensure that we are experimenting adequately?

  3. How do we ensure that all experiments are meaningful and are evaluated properly?

  4. How do we engage our people in experimentation and promote experimentation?

Organizations should be loathe to failure of type 1, the failure due to planning and should embrace failure of type 2, the failure from uncertainty.

The later enriches the organization by generating new knowledge and creating energy. The former waste resources and drains energy.

Alas! Very few organizations are open to promote type 2 failure, promoting the culture of experimentation and learning.

In fact, most are bent upon failing by refusing to plan innovation.

Do reach out to me for eliminating serendipity from your innovation efforts.

Krishnan Naganathan

Krishnan is a leading innovation consultant and focuses on helping people and organizations innovate and build capabilities for innovation. He brings over 25 years of experience in the industry and consulting. You can reach him by phone / WhatsApp: +919791033967 or email:


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