Leadership Insights

Leaders create innovation by managing risk

Mar 27, 2018 3:18:18 PM / by Ed Brzychcy

It is the eternal piece of advice to entrepreneurs and innovators, fail fast and often, learn and move on. How actionable is this advice when applied to our business problems? Can we afford to fail fast and fail often, what lessons do we learn and can we bear the cost of continued setbacks until we finally get it right after multiple iterations?

The truth of it is that most of us can not afford to fail. We are all bound by the risks of coming up short, whether it be regulatory constraints, stakeholder expectations, or bottom line concerns. The other side of the coin is that people are imperfect and make mistakes, especially as they are learning and developing the skills necessary to perform their jobs.

As an organizational leader, it is up to us to balance this for our teams and our businesses. It is critical that we set attainable standards and goals and train ourselves and our units accordingly. Organizational improvement is an iterative process, and we learn best by identifying problem areas and solving the relevant issues. However, if we cannot afford to make mistakes, and subsequently either do not take risks through experimentation, provide an opportunity for our people to learn by doing, or merely set a low bar which we know is easily attainable, we are only setting ourselves and our organizations up for long-term failure and obsolescence.

This situation is why training is one of our paramount responsibilities as a leader. It is up to us to create the necessary frameworks where failure is possible (if almost encouraged) and where our teams and ourselves may iteratively learn from mistakes. This training and knowledge management enables us to learn and reapply our knowledge in new and more powerful ways - generating innovation and constant improvement for when it matters; for when the stakes do not allow for failure.

It is a fundamental fact that innovation requires risk, and risk carries the chance of failure. Providing a robust training framework to our teams gives the space to learn and fail while allowing for iterative growth and process improvement. As leaders, it is up to us to provide this opportunity to our teams.

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Topics: leadership, training, planning

Ed Brzychcy

Written by Ed Brzychcy

Ed Brzychcy is former U.S. Army Infantry Staff-Sergeant with service across 3 combat deployments to Iraq. After his time in the military, he received his MBA from Babson College and now coaches organizational leadership and growth through his consultancy, Blue Cord Management.