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Kelly Odell

- A blog for leaders
29 Mar 2006

The Path to profitable growth goes through the heart not through the balance sheet! (Part 2)

Another fundamental building block of growth is to create what many call an innovation culture within the company. Creating an environment where everyone takes risks and where failures are seen as learning opportunities. Many companies strive to minimize risk or even eliminate risk but as anyone who ever took a basic course in economics knows “the higher the risk the higher the return”. If our focus is risk elimination we are in essence simultaneously dooming our business to profit elimination. Creating growth involves taking risks and making mistakes. Growth doesn’t come easy and it is inevitable that growth companies will take the wrong path from time to time, learn from their mistakes and move on. Businesses that understand this encourage risk taking and even celebrate failure.

Many years ago I was asked by a Vice-President of the company I was working for to lead a difficult and important project in addition to my normal line manager job. After about 9 months we concluded that the project would not succeed and the project was closed down.

The Vice President then asked me to give an internal presentation with my reflections about why the project had failed and what we as a company should learn from the experience. I was both surprised and nervous when I found out that he had booked an auditorium and about 100 people were to attend the presentation of my failure. Before I started my presentation the VP went up on the stage and thanked me and my project team for accepting such a difficult and risky project and for working so diligently. He then presented me with a gift certificate worth $1000 from our travel agency as a token of appreciation for my effort. This is a great example of celebrating failure. In a very simple way he demonstrated to me and everyone else that not reaching difficult goals could be deemed a success if lessons where learned.

Several months later the project was restarted and within a year was successfully completed. Everyone involved agreed that the learning gained from our previous “failures” played a significant role in the successful outcome.

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