Initiating Innovation and why you should ask your employees to always make new mistakes

When profits are under pressure and markets get depressed, the one consistent message I hear from CEO’s and executive leaders: We need to fix our business model and get to better options and solutions, fast. Due to this pressure, organizations often pursue the wrong changes – and in a fast-moving business world, it is easy to make wrong choices.

The reason for this is that organizations hardly spend the time and energy to identify and drive enough alternatives – and even if they make time, it is not necessarily in a collaborative way involving the right stakeholders. It is critical that executive teams figure out not only what to change, but what to change first – and what the priorities are. It is often because of the perceived risk, moving outside our comfort zone or a lack of trust in people in the organization, that not enough alternatives are pursued.

I remember when took over a challenging and very demanding position. My mentor at the time gave me an extraordinary gift. She gave me a card to pin on my white-board with the following inscription “Always make new mistakes.” This left an indelible impression on me because it is only through going outside of your own comfort zone and taking risks, that we learn and grow. More often than not, we encounter resistance and challenges, but by persevering, putting yourself out there, we learn and grow. Only by stretching our self to the limit do we know just how far we can go.

One afternoon as I stood on the windy cliffs overlooking a stormy Walker Bay, I noticed how the clouds had opened and the sun was streaming through. This made me think of the late Leonard Cohen’s song – “Anthem.” He said, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Nothing wonderful is perfect. It is the flaw that makes us unique, and it is the flaw that is the mark of human inspiration. We may not always succeed, but we are nothing if we have not even tried.

There is a 500-year-old Japanese art form called Kintsugi. It is the art of recognizing beauty in broken things. Kintsugi is the method of restoring a broken piece of porcelain with lacquer mixed with gold. This art conveys a philosophy not of replacement, but of awe, reverence, and restoration.  The gold-filled cracks are testament to its history. The Kintsugi craftsman would say “it is one beautiful way of living, that you fix your dish by yourself.”

Great leaders will give their people space and time in which to grow, encourage risk and require them to think outside the square.  They allow and encourage employees to make new mistakes as they develop and support the business. Sometimes cracks appear, and fixing is required. This is all accepted as part of the growth process. What are the key actions of great leaders in supporting organizational growth and people development?

  • Encourage risk – encourage employees to be innovative, and to take risks. Give stretch assignments. Do not prescribe every move and every step. As with situational leadership – it is in the participation and delegation that bright and new ideas are born.
  • Provide a safety net – if employees are encouraged to take risks, they are bound to make mistakes. What is their safety net? Do they get help and are being supported or are they penalized for their mistakes? This is one sure way to stop innovation and risk-taking.
  • Listen and give feedback – a regular coaching and feedback process is crucial to the development process. Listen and provide support and feedback. A good coach does not tell what to do. They ask for ideas and stimulate thoughts.

Does your Company deliver improved business results through innovation in engagement and change management? Read my white paper – Improved Business Results through Innovative Engagement – Initiating Innovation in Change Management where I discuss ideas and thoughts on how to achieve improved and sustained business results through innovative engagement.