Make Your Business a Great Place to Fail

Idea HunterTwo weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending SHRM 2016 in Washington, D.C. I was there to collect as much information as I could about HR software and technology and to learn about trends in the HR field.

But one session turned my attention to a broader topic—one that forms the foundation for everything we do in HR. 

That topic? Innovation.


"The Idea Hunter"

Monday afternoon, Andy Boynton led a session entitled “The Idea Hunter: How to Find the Best Ideas and Make Them Happen.” The session focused on four steps to innovation in your business:

  • I – Be Interested. Be a learning machine.
  • D – Diversify. Learn from weird people.
  • E – Exercise your idea muscles daily.
  • ABe Agile. Adapt, reuse, and test your ideas.

One example from the session came from everybody’s favorite innovator, Thomas Edison. When Edison interviewed people for Edison General Electric Company (precursor to today’s General Electric Company), he asked them scores of general knowledge questions about history, science, mathematics, and more. Because he was typically dealing with people who didn’t have a college education, their ability (or inability) to answer these questions told him whether or not they were curious about the world around them. And he considered that curiosity, and the associated ability to think broadly, a key to innovation.

Edison’s inventions changed the world multiple times over the course of his lifetime because he saw the value of fostering creativity and he wasn’t afraid to fail.

Takeaways For the Daily Grind

All of us like to think of ourselves as creative, innovative people, but sometimes our creativity gets squelched by the daily grind. Instead of offering up new ideas, we keep our heads down and perpetuate that same ol’ routine. What can HR professionals in particular do to encourage creativity in employees to bring out the best ideas?

  • Start with culture.
    Some companies are known for their culture of innovation (Google, anyone?), but many regulate the creativity right out of their most innovative minds. Companies that routinely produce new, creative ideas have intentionally created a culture where people aren’t afraid to try new things. That can start with changes as simple as eliminating negative comments during a brainstorming session or reaching out to every employee for new ideas rather than just your top performers.

  • Learn to leverage failure.
    Perhaps the most important lesson we learn from Thomas Edison is his oft-quoted viewpoint on failure: “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Failure is an integral part of innovation. We can leverage it and learn from it, or we can live in fear of it.

  • Make your company a safe place for new ideas.
    When we embrace failure, we make our organizations safe places for people to take bold bets. According to Jeff Bezos of Amazon, those bold bets can pay off big. But you have to be willing to accept the inevitable failures that go along with them. “We are the best place in the world to fail,” Bezos told shareholders in a recent newsletter. “Failure and invention are inseparable twins.” If we penalize people for failed ideas, we will train them not to create.

  • Implement new ideas with effective change management.
    When you unshackle the creativity of your employees, you must be able to effectively implement their ideas in order to capitalize on their value. The structure of your organizational policies plays a significant role in this process, since changing one variable will affect every other variable it touches.

Did you attend SHRM 2016? What were your top takeaways?

Read more about this topic: 5 Ways to Create a Culture of TeamworkSteps to Building a Company Culture

About the Author: Susan McClure is our new resident content marketer at She will be writing about HR outsourcing and general employment issues. When she isn’t writing, you might find her researching online marketing trends, browsing shelves at the library, or digging in the garden with her family and fur kids.