How to Reward Failure but Still Succeed


Innovation is a term used far too often in the business world. But that does not mean it’s not important.

In order to truly succeed, your company/brand/product must stand out from the crowd. It must offer something, do something, or solve something completely unique. This requires innovative thinking.

In order to recruit, retain, and inspire innovative thinkers, we should incentivize it. While it’s true that many innovations are accidents or random, creative thinking is a skill that can be practiced and honed. And in order to encourage more of it at your company, you must remove the obstacles to it.

That means first recognizing that not everything you do will be a success. Failure is far more common. Organizations and leaders must acknowledge this fact, and convince their teams that failure will not be punished.

In fact, in many of the leading innovative organizations, failure is rewarded. When you reward failure, you incentivize people to try new things, come up with creative solutions to problems, and take initiative. You eliminate the stigma that comes with failure, and get people thinking about things in bold new ways.

At this point, a lot of managers and team leaders will be shaking their heads. The concept makes sense, they’ll think. But won’t this lead to a lot more failure? What if the big breakthrough or success never comes?

These are common fears, and completely natural. The key is in the message, and in how you reward employees who think outside the box.

You are not paying people to fail. What you are paying them for, is to try. Failure is just a step on the road to success. So you must be willing to invest in the process, not just the success.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Do reward employees for new ideas
  • Do highlight all the behind the scenes work that goes into successes
  • Do spread the word throughout the organization
  • Do train people on how to harness their creativity
  • Don’t fire people for trying

Encourage Creative Thinking

Your team relies on you to set the tone. Different managers lead in different ways. But more and more studies of behavior and work performance continue to suggest that more creative work environments lead to more productive teams.

As managers, what can you do to encourage creative thinking and innovation?

It starts with telling your employees, and showing them, that taking chances and thinking outside the box is encouraged. If they see a way they can help the company, they are encouraged to do it, even if it lies outside their direct area of responsibility.

And if someone tries something and it doesn’t work, approach the failure as a success. We tried, and found out what doesn’t work. That’s a victory.

Once other employees see that failures are not punished or discouraged, they will all feel that they too can think more creatively.

Incentivize your team to come to you with new ideas. Create an innovator of the month for the person that comes up with the best new idea, and treat them to a gift card or free lunch.

In dealing with customers or marketing, employees should be encouraged to go off script and create fresh, exciting consumer experiences. That gets people talking about your brand. It should be encouraged and rewarded.

Finally, you can remove some of the structures and strictures that discourage creativity and innovation. Flexible hours, comfortable office environments with unique perks and features, fun and friendly inter-office competition may all seem a little outside the box when it comes to corporate culture. But these are small ways you can change the nature of work for your employees that will show them you mean it when you say you want people to be more creative.

Creating a culture of innovation takes effort. And it starts at the top. Once you commit to it, stick with it. You will find that your teams will slowly start to adopt the new values and become more productive.

Be Innovative: Subway Ad Review

It’s important in whatever you do to always be thinking outside the box. In my younger days (about 1 year ago), I wrote a blog which I titled “Be Innovation”. It was about the need in the business world to be changing, to look for the next best thing, to create real value where there once was none.

In that vein, I love the display ad I was delivered for Subway a week ago. Check it out below:


What do I love about it?

First, the color really pops. But that’s not it.

Next, the idea of making an offer on a display ad is different. This is not meant for branding, it’s meant to sell 3 footlong subs for $12. You don’t often see display ads that attempt to make a direct sale, especially for a product that can’t be purchased online. But that’s not it either.

I really love the “Find a Store” feature within the ad. Present an offer, than let people know how they can take advantage of it, all in one ad. Well done subway.

Grade = A for innovAtion

Incentivize Everything! Innovation

Previous posts in this series:

Innovation. It’s a very popular word to throw around these days. From the President’s speeches to car commercials, everyone is asking for and touting innovation. Maybe it all started because a little blog I used to write.

The definition of innovation is simple, the introduction of something new, or change. In the business sense, it’s a new way of doing something that is better than before. Either it makes the customer experience simpler or more effective, or it makes business processes flow smoother, or it saves money, etc.

At the end of the day, innovation moves us forward. And if you’re running a company, you are looking for the next big idea. Well it’s time to stop looking, and start getting. Go out and do something to make it happen. That’s the entire philosophy to the Incentivize Everything series.

A business’s greatest resources are its employees. From the executives, to the marketers, to the customer service staff, to the factory workers, they are the most important (and possibly the most underutilized) aspects of a successful business. And they have ideas, they have the ideas that you are looking for.

All you need to do is incentivize them to step forward, and empower them to implement.

For every new idea that the company implements, that employee gets ___. Fill in the blank with money, days off, promotions, parties, anything that would drive employees to create change.

Google gives its employees one day each week to work on their own projects. That’s how Gmail was born. Think about it.

Book Review: The Innovator’s DNA

If you’ve ever sat and wondered what makes some of the world’ most successful business leaders different from the rest of us, The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, the new book from Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton Christentsen has the answers.

And, according to this text, the answer lies in five distinct skills that they possess. The good news is that you can train yourself to get better at each individual skill in order to become an innovator. The book walks you through each skill and provides various tips and exercises for its readers who are interested in becoming more like Steve Jobs and other successful business men and women.

The 5 Discovery Skills, as they’re called, are:

  1. Associating
  2. Questioning
  3. Observing
  4. Networking
  5. Experimenting

The true nature of an innovator is seen in the way they conduct themselves. In order to seek out new ideas, new ways of thinking, and new ways of doing things, you have to be curious, creative, and inquisitive. They are a different breed of people, and this book dives deep into the heart of why.