I read this article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday and it reminded me of Dr. Jeffrey Myers' excellent keynote address on innovation at CAP Futurescape earlier this year.
Amid worries that we are becoming less innovative, some companies are rewarding employees for their mistakes or questionable risks. The tactic is rooted in research showing that innovations are often accompanied by a high rate of failure.
"Failure, and how companies deal with failure, is a very big part of innovation," says Judy Estrin of Menlo Park, Calif., a founder of seven high-tech companies and author of a book on innovation. Failures caused by sloppiness or laziness are bad. But "if employees try something that was worth trying and fail, and if they are open about it, and if they learn from that failure, that is a good thing."
The laboratory seems so conditioned to avoiding errors and minimizing risks that it is counterintuitive to ask staff to try new ideas with the expectation of failure. But, like our lab's experience with Lean production principles, the lab is arguably the best place in the hospital to be an incubator for innovation for the hospital. However, a successful for innovation appears to need an atmosphere of open and effective communication and a culture that studies rather than blames failure. Likely the biggest change would need to be with leadership and the "culture" of the lab working environment.
However, all innovative companies tend to be alike in certain ways, Ms. Estrin says. They encourage coworkers to trust each other, comment on each other's work and take criticism in stride. Also, managers encourage intelligent risk-taking, tolerate failure and insist that employees share information openly.
If you have any experience with fostering innovation at your lab, I invite you to share them. It would also be interesting what changes you made yourself as a manager or change agent.