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15 September 2020

Creating a culture where failure is the first step in successful innovation

Smart ideas are good – but innovative solutions are better. That’s why players from across industries work together to bring fresh ideas to life. How does it start? By embracing failure as the first step on the path to game-changing discoveries.
In today’s world, many people and companies view success and failure as opposites. Winners are celebrated. Losing is a source of shame. But innovators and fresh-thinkers actively embrace failure as the first step towards success – as long as it’s handled openly and constructively. This way of thinking focuses on understanding what went wrong and learning from it, rather than figuring out who is to blame. However, many companies are still struggling to adopt this mindset. In a 2018 study by Ernst & Young in Germany, half of the people surveyed stated that their employer was not taking any tangible steps to improve how the company deals with mistakes. Something needs to change. But what exactly?

“I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Thomas Edison,

Inventor of the lightbulb

Changing the culture of an entire company or other large organisation begins in the mind of each individual person. When recruiting, businesses need to find ways of identifying and attracting people who break new ground, challenge what they’re told and dare to do things that may seem impossible at first glance. Of course, this is easier in some industries than in others: in science, for example, the trial and error method is an established part of the process. But even in traditionally failure-averse industries, change is coming. Another EY study showed that more than 80 percent of people in Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) think embracing failure on a project will help them to become more innovative, while 17 percent believe it will make them more comfortable with taking risks.

Naturally, embracing failure starts at the top. Management teams have to encourage open and transparent communication, while actively demanding and exploring new ideas. Instead of hiding mistakes, employees should report all failures and analyse them in detail to learn as much as possible. Companies should also encourage fast failure, where new ideas are tried without delay but quickly abandoned if success becomes unlikely. Grünenthal is building a culture where mistakes are accepted as part of the learning process. In fact, this spirit is integrated into the company’s Values & Behaviours, which encourage employees to live entrepreneurship by exploring new paths and taking smart risks. This helps employees to understand failure as an opportunity to achieve success – and as the first step on the journey towards turning smart ideas into life-changing solutions for patients around the world.

In today’s fast-paced world, it’s more important than ever to share information between companies, academic institutions and other organisations. By exploring new forms of collaboration, players from across industries and around the globe can generate innovative solutions that make the world a better place. This series of articles aims to highlight how connecting smart ideas can stimulate creativity, achieve ambitious goals – and transform our lives forever.
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