Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins: The Paradox of Innovation
Richard Farson, Ralph Keyes
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Success in today's business economy demands nonstop innovation. But fancy buzzwords, facile lip service, and simplistic formulas are not the answer. Only an entirely new mindset -- a new attitude toward success and failure -- can transform managers' thinking, according to Richard Farson, author of the bestseller Management of the Absurd, and Ralph Keyes, author of the pathbreaking Chancing It: Why We Take Risks, in this provocative new work.
According to Farson and Keyes, the key to this new attitude lies in taking risks. In a rapidly changing economy, managers will confront at least as much failure as success. Does that mean they'll have failed? Only by their grandfathers' definition of failure. Both success and failure are steps toward achievement, say the authors. After all, Coca-Cola's renaissance grew directly out of its New Coke debacle, and severe financial distress forced IBM to completely reinvent itself.
Wise leaders accept their setbacks as necessary footsteps on the path toward success. They also know that the best way to fall behind in a shifting economy is to rely on what's worked in the past -- as when once-innovative companies like Xerox and Polaroid relied too heavily on formulas that had grown obsolete. By contrast, companies such as GE and 3M have remained vibrant by encouraging innovators, even when they suffered setbacks. In their stunning new book, Farson and Keyes call this enlightened approach "productive mistake-making." Rather than reward success and penalize failure, they propose that managers focus on what can be learned from both. Paradoxically, the authors argue, the less we chase success and flee from failure, the more likely we are to genuinely succeed.
Best of all, they have written a little jewel of a book, packed with fresh insights, blessedly brief, and to the point.
is how a pal’s success makes them feel. In a thoughtful essay on this subject, Thomas Powers pointed out that the rise of an old friend forces others to question whether they’ve become the person they set out to be. Few have. That’s why nervous difﬁdence is the norm when those who haven’t achieved their goals confront old friends who have. The drifting apart that follows is not drifting at all. It’s more like a divorce. Even though this split is usually initiated by the less successful of the
intuitive daring. In such cases, it takes a bold mind like Jim Clark’s, one comfortable with sometime irrationality, to swim upstream against the rushing waters of success. An extraordinary amount of foresight, imagination, and will is required to rechart the course of big corporate ships with solid bottom lines. Yet, in a constantly changing marketplace, that is the only way to stay aﬂoat. In principle, Digital could have morphed into an Apple, or Western Union into a Microsoft. There is no
is related to the other. In The 3M Way to Innovation, his excellent study of 3M’s culture, management consultant Ernest Gundling concluded, “Perhaps the adversity 3M 84 R I CH A R D FA R S O N A ND RALPH KEYES faced during those [early] years helped to make it the innovative company that it is today, for it served to teach the employees then and now a valuable lesson: success can emerge from failure.” Ever since Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman sang 3M’s praises in In Search of Excellence,
him: He was too stiff, too wooden. Gore’s feelings were stored in a lockbox. He never got misty-eyed, like—well—like Ed Muskie! In a different time and place, Muskie’s catastrophic failure might have been considered a roaring success. If Maine’s senator had been campaigning in the age of Oprah, his tearful outburst might have won him plaudits. Muskie would then have been viewed as a devoted husband and passionate candidate who could communicate soulfully with the American public. Failure and
means they get to play longer. This is why so many winners don’t cash in their chips while they’re ahead. To them that’s the real loss. They’re out of the action. Risk takers of all kinds think in these terms. After dropping out of the Republican presidential primaries in 2000, Senator John McCain discovered that, even more than losing, he hated having to leave the hullabaloo of campaigning. “I really miss the excitement,” McCain said later. For high-stakes political rollers, excitement is the