Creativity, agility and accepting failure are core to successful innovation

Post by 
Graeme Curwen
November 13, 2018

nnovation by its very nature is dealing with new untested ideas. Due to the unruly and unpredictable nature of innovation it would be wrong to set ground rules, however there are three core ingredients your organisation needs to tap into when innovating:

  1. Unleashed creativity to be able to think of new ways of tackling old problems, or coming up with solutions to problems people didn’t realise they had;
  2. Agility to be able test the ideas quickly to see if they are viable and, if they are, get them straight to market, and;
  3. A healthy acceptance of failure because let’s face it, if the idea is new and untested then there is no way you will know if it will be a success or not.

First let’s look at creativity

When it comes to creativity you have to accept you’ve either got it or you haven’t, it’s not something that can be just be taught on a training course.

In society when people generally think about what defines creativity, words such as ‘art’, ‘literature’ and ‘drama’ come to mind, attributes that some people would deem ‘right brain thinking’.  Whilst all of these attributes do indeed help with creative thinking, when I think about creativity, in terms of innovation anyway, I think challenge. Challenge the norm, challenge the status quo, challenge traditional thinking.

And who in the organisation is best placed to challenge the norm and drive innovation? Not the traditional people you normally listen to when shaping your future strategic direction … not the experienced executive that has helped create the norm you are in today and ‘seen it all before’ … not the middle-manager that doesn’t want to risk promotion by challenging the thinking of the senior executives that have come before them … it’s the misfits, the geeks, the new breed, the young, the inexperienced that are best placed to challenge and innovate. The ones that have something to prove and little to lose. The one’s that are not corporately programmed and jaded by years of ‘seeing it all before’, the one’s that ask ‘why’ and more importantly don’t consider ‘why not’. If your organisation doesn’t have them, then you probably need to look at your recruitment and interview strategy and let some of these misfits in.

Search out and connect with the creatives in your organisation, and if you can’t find them … hire them

How you connect and engage with this community of young, tech savvy, ambitious people really depends on the size of your organisation, but whatever your size you must give people the trust, space and environment to be creative and clearly demonstrate that you are open to ideas, and will follow through on the good ones. If you don’t, what was intended to be a turn on will inevitably be a turn off.

Once you have the ideas, it’s all about agility

Having the ideas is only the first step of the equation, ideas are no good to anyone if they just stay in our heads. In today’s fast moving business landscape innovative ideas are also no good if they take you years to realise and get to market. It’s too little too late!

This is where agility comes into the equation, and I’m not just talking about Agile with a capital ‘A’ (although this is becoming increasing important), I’m also talking about the agility to change your organisational structure, your agility to break down organisational silos and pull together multi-disciplinary teams, your agility to make decisions fast and not procrastinate, your agility to change your business model, and your agility to take risks.

To truly harness innovation you need to make innovation agility part of the fabric of your organisation. Although you may create ‘innovation’ functions within your organisation to run the mechanics of innovation (idea generation, idea management, Agile teams, prototyping, etc), innovations will only graduate out of the innovation factory if the rest of the organisation is ready to embrace the new products.  It needs to accept and adapt to new business models or new ways of working that the innovations bring.

Accept and embrace failure (at least in the short-term)

As I mentioned, innovation by its very nature is dealing with new untested ideas, therefore to truly innovate you have to put failure to one side. How can you guarantee that something new and untested will be a success? You just can’t. More crucially your people will be reluctant to push the boundaries, to disrupt, if they fear they will be judged if they fail.

However what you can do is embrace failure and learnt from it, not push it under the table, make failure a positive thing and come out the other side stronger.

Central to embracing failure is taking finance off the innovation table, think of it like a casino. You assess how much you can afford to lose and balance that against the odds of the game and the potential return. You make a few calculated moves to try and increase your odds, but when it comes down to it, you win some you lose some, that’s the game, how much you win or lose depends on your risk appetite but just make sure you don’t go all in without good reason, and remember sometime it’s all about the long game!


So when setting out on your unpredictable innovation journey, be sure that you include the three core ingredients of creativity, agility and a healthy acceptance of failure.  This way your journey is more likely to take you in the right direction!

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