The Success of Failure
What makes a successful innovation?
The US has been blessed by a series of dramatic innovations over time: electrification, telephones, personal computers. Some of these have been truly disruptive, changing not only the way people do their jobs, but the very jobs themselves. Indeed, mastering the dynamics of innovation is critical for any company. In the past year corporations that file with the SEC used the word “innovation” over 33 thousand times in their annual and quarterly reports!
But by its very nature innovation is unpredictable. Doing new things in new ways upsets the status quo. Email is challenging the Postal Service; digital photography probably bankrupted Kodak.
And implementing innovation is risky. When social networking was in its infancy, companies like sixdegrees, Tribe.net, Friendster, and MySpace all tried to capitalize on the trend. None of them fully captured the market and many of them folded along the way. But one of the reasons Facebook succeeded where others didn’t was that there is little stigma in the US to failing at a new business venture. Bankruptcy laws allow entrepreneurs to walk away from unsuccessful projects, and the lessons from those failures can be incorporated into the next attempt.
If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly, at least to start out. Because our institutions and culture accept failure, we have remained a hub for innovation around the world. The results can be disruptive, but using new technologies to improve the way we do things has helped make the US the most productive economy in the world.
But it often starts with failure.