I recently re-read an article on Forbes.com called ‘Free to Fail” from back in 2005.
The article focuses on Steven McKinley, an engineer at BorgWarner, who wanted to explore the use of giant batteries in cars. The company gave him a couple million dollars with which to explore his hunch and he was off and running.
Long story short, a couple of years later, he returned to senior executives and instead of reporting new discoveries and triumphs, he had to tell them he’d been wrong, that the money and research just hadn’t materialized into a new discovery or product.
In many, and likely most, companies, this admission would have been seen as a failure or waste of time and money. At this particular company, however, this was not the case. In fact, McKinley and others on his team received notes from the chief executive of the company thanking them and recognizing them for their risk-taking and their efforts.
Yes, thanking and congratulating him! How about that!?
Imagine an environment in which new, not-always-proven ideas are encouraged, accepted and even financed. Imagine an environment in which failure is not only an option, but it is viewed as a learning experience and a necessary part of the process. Imagine an environment in which the fear of failure is removed from the picture so that innovation, ideas and dedication to an idea, whether proven or not, take up all of the spaces.
Of course people can’t and shouldn't check their brains at the door, but taking measured, smart risks is a critical element of an innovative culture.
I bet a lot can get done in that kind of an environment.