The important role of failure in the innovation cycle

Today’s blog, inspired by our Business Insights Lecture series, is about failure – a crucial part of the innovation process. If you have an idea, which you believe to be truly innovative, what do you do next? Investing lots of money on a hunch seems a risky strategy and one that you’d probably struggle to get any fund managers to back. So, first it would seem sensible to test your ideas.

Prototyping features prominently in a number of York St John University design courses and the School of Art, Design and Computer Science has a specialist Rapid Prototyping Suite.

Rapid prototyping suite

Students on the BA (Hons) Product Design course learn about the different systems for rapid prototyping including stereo-lithography, laser cutting and 3D printing.

Prototyping allows you to test your idea without spending much money and see if there is a market for your innovation. In fact, you don’t always have to have a physical product to test. For example, McDonalds put McSpaghetti on their menu (even though it wasn’t something they actually offered) to see if customers would actually be interested in ordering it before they invested in rolling it out.

Tesla had such a good marketing strategy that people put down deposits for cars before the final production version was even unveiled. This meant they had a guaranteed market and a source of funding. This is a great success story but for every Tesla there are 100 McSpaghettis and although failing quickly and cheaply is better than wasting a lot of time to fail expensively, it still hurts. The important thing is to make sure you learn from the failure.

Learning from failure is important in many aspects of life and reminds me to one of my favourite motivational quotes, courtesy of Michael Jordan: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Coping with failure in sport is featured as part of the learning and research in Sport Psychology within the School of Sport at York St John University. As part of the School of Sport Seminar Series, Dr Adam Nicholls, from the University of Hull, is coming to York St John University on 22nd March to talk about how athletes cope with making mistakes, receiving criticism and worrying about outcomes.

Tomorrow, in the final part of this blog series on innovation, I’ll be writing about the impact of timing on innovation success.

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