By: Katie Taylor
Rituals of failure and the path of the innovator.
A single batch of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream produced at their plant in Waterbury, Vermont, contains 80,000 quarts of ice cream. Of course, 80,000 pints is relatively little for an ice cream plant that makes up to a million pints per day.
But not all flavors will reach Ice SCREAM celebrity status like Cherry Garcia, chubby hubby, Where Half Cooked. Even new flavors (of which Ben & Jerry’s produces about three or four each year) need a minimum of 80,000 satisfied or at least curious customers ready to buy it before it hits the shop floor. of production.
As in any industry, failure is inevitable. Some flavors will not be widely accepted and others will fall out of favor. For Ben & Jerry’s, celebrating flavor failure is a unique ritual in their organization’s culture: the physical and virtual graveyard of flavor.
The cemetery of flavors “pay[s] tribute to our lost loved ones ”and honors the failure that occurs when we innovate. In fact, many organizations, from Google and WL Gore to Intuit and Huntsman, commemorate failed projects.
Why is celebrating failure part of an organization’s culture of innovation? One of the reasons can be found in the Hero’s Journey myth that every innovation group experiences.
In 1948, narratologist Joseph Campbell identified the stages of the “hero’s journey” in mythology. According to Campbell, the hero’s journey culminates with a transformed hero who returns with the “perks” or gifts of the trip, to share with his community. In turn, the community establishes rituals, builds monuments and exhibits artifacts to celebrate the hero and the journey.
As with communities encouraging their best and brightest to go beyond the threshold of the known to the unknown, to push the boundaries of what is possible, organizations must also establish rituals, monuments and artifacts to inspire. and build a community around their innovators.
Unlike the Hero’s Journey stories, which usually end in success, the Innovator’s Journey is fraught with failure. Therefore, organizations must also standardize, de-stigmatize and celebrate failure. This provides the psychological security necessary for innovators to share stories about their experiences.
Here are three epic examples of organizations celebrating and normalizing failure as a driving part of innovation.
[Related: How Innovation Starts with an Honest and Open Dialogue with Yourself]
Physical storytelling: failure in miniature.
Celebrating failure can inspire innovation; failure rituals can also educate people to understand why an innovation has failed. In our interview with PayPal Senior Director of Innovation, Michael Todasco, he explained that Paypal’s innovation team decided to create a small-scale model of their campus with the failures of their innovation teams. told as a physical story.
Todasco shares that this ritual of physically documenting PayPal failures underlines that “Just because things didn’t work in the past doesn’t mean they won’t work today. We had all these ideas; that should serve as inspiration. Ultimately, Todasco believes the institution of this failure ritual serves as a “reminder to those of us at PayPal what happened before and how we can build even better things in the future.” .
Capitalizing on a culture of failure promotes opportunities for learning or growth and hopefully avoids repeating the same mistakes and failures.
The ritual of food: Dessert and discussion.
MITER is another great example of a business embracing the idea of documenting and “celebrating” stories of failure – and this one is all about the food!
MITER Corporation innovation leader Dan Ward says their innovation teams eat cake as part of their ritual of failure. The team members sit down, eat cake and think about: what was tried and how to explain the result? By creating a specific ritual around eating “failure cake”, innovation teams know there is a time and place to think and grow.
What started at MITER as a team failure cake is now an official ritual: MITER receives a cake, sets a table in the company cafeteria, and encourages employees to celebrate their failures. By filling out a post-it with a failure story, the innovator gets a piece of the cake.
Ward recognized the benefit of the ritual because “everyone fails… by being honest about the failure and having something sweet, having this cake helps reduce the pain and shame of that experience. Ritualizing “failure cakes” encourages teams to reflect on past failures, learn from mistakes and encourage creativity.
Ward concludes that “whatever company you work with, wherever you are, go buy a cake. Set it up in the cafeteria, in a public place and say, “Give us a failure story, we’ll give you a piece of cake.” And just watch the magic unfold.
[Related: Discovering Your Inner Resolve: How to Find Courage in Adversity]
“This is how things are done:” An outdated state of mind.
Every business benefits by taking risks and allowing the possibility of failure. In large, established companies, there may be a product, model, and environment so well established that it can seem counterintuitive to rock the boat.
However, the DuPont company has instituted ritual frameworks to help innovation teams overcome failures. Dead Projects Day is an event for DuPont teams to create and share with the company narrative presentations of their brilliant failures of the past year.
As Lindsey Karpowich, an agile coach in new product development at DuPont, explains, one company accepts “give[s] people the confidence and motivation to keep going. [Because if] we have a million great ideas [and] if one thing doesn’t work, [an organization can say] “Don’t worry, you’re going to have another project to work on. “
Creating an organizational framework in which projects and innovators can still succeed despite, or even because of, failures will serve to accelerate innovation and better support innovators.
Failure is part of the journey, not the destination.
At Untold Content, we help industries harness the power of history in the innovation journey. Drawing on the knowledge of over 100 global innovation leaders, we are proud to offer innovation storytelling trainings and toolkits that include proven strategies, models and tools to help you. communicate innovations effectively and efficiently.
Failure is an inevitable step in the innovation journey. What sets innovation teams apart is the way they frame the experience.
[Related: How to Adopt a Growth Mindset and Revolutionize Your Career]
Katie taylor is the CEO of Untold Content. She has just launched a podcast, Untold Stories of Innovation, where she interviews top innovation leaders on the importance of storytelling in the art of innovation.