Last week we got into what innovation means for a startup. 

This week we’re taking a more hands-on approach. We’ll discuss how you can groom your employees to be more innovative by creating a safe space for failure and risk-taking, and how some of the more “traditional ways” of building a company might be getting in the way of the future. 

Accepting failure to enable success 

It’s an odd thing that our culture has come to stigmatize the concept of failure when it’s so vital in life. A baby has to crawl, stumble and fall almost a 1000 times before walking, and they don’t bat an eye. They just get up and keep on trying. We know as humans that this process is perfectly normal. “That’s how THEY learn,” we say. When did we stop being they? 

As adults, we tend to handle failure very differently. We feel shame, disappointment, guilt, and a whole lot of other non-productive emotions that turn us stagnant. We know this is not the way to handle failure—nature tells us as much. So even though it can be painful at times, failing is always necessary

Notice how I said “failing” and not “failure.” Our egos can get the best of us in these situations—and we might be aware that failure is necessary to move forward as a company—but we fall into the trap of “it doesn’t have to be my failure.” This is the most dangerous attitude a worker can have, especially managers, since we humans learn by example. This can lead to avoiding responsibility for your own actions, putting blame on someone else, destroying comradery within the team, running away from any possible risk, not to mention all the personal insecurities a worker can develop. This is definitely not the recipe for an innovative team, so it is our job to teach the people in our company, not just employees but managers as well, how to properly deal with failure

Adopting a risk-seeking mentality 

It’s undeniable that risk leads to innovation. You can’t play it safe when you’re breaking into a whole new field, or using technology in a new way. There’s no map for that path, you have to be the trailblazer. But of course, by you, I mean your entire organization. Team diversity is your stepping stone towards innovation so start with the individuals that make up your company. 

How? Easy: Don’t make success your employees’ goal

That can be your personal goal as a founder and CEO, but having that pressure on your employees stifles innovation. This is very common in traditional corporations where employees are rewarded on successes, which means they’re getting incentives to play it safe. It would be counterproductive for them to take risks, try new things, fail, i.e. innovate. 

Companies have a natural innercia against change. You probably won’t be able to innovate within a big company’s already built processes. There’s just too much structure to allow for it. Your best bet would be to build and external team with enough freedom to innovate. That’s your innovation department, the ones taking the risks in order to find, among 5, 10 or even 100 possibilities, that one idea that will change your company for the better. 

LEGO is a great example of how it can be achieved, by changing the way you manage your teams. They have 2 immediate incentives for their employees: one is for taking risks and the other is for helping others reach their goals. So they encourage team collaboration at the same time they push each individual to get out there and try something new. This resonates throughout the company and provides a company culture eager to innovate together. 

Set out to create a space where it is safe to explore. Not only will it make for a better working environment than most; but this process will also bring wonderful new profitable ideas to your company that will keep you relevant, agile, up to date and perpetually improving. 

If you are an early-stage startup, you can check out my other posts and courses on startup tech management. You might also want to take a look at my course The best technologies for your startup to make your startup innovative, or you can schedule a mentoring session with me if you have more specific questions or needs.