Growth People & Culture

If we want innovation, we need to start rewarding failure.

Google's Astro Teller (yes that's his real name) says we need to start recognising failure. That got me listening!

How many times have you heard CEO’s complaining there isn’t enough innovation in their business? How many times have you heard that innovation is “a priority” and the culture needs to change to become more innovative?

Well if we want our companies to innovate more, maybe we need to start rewarding failure.

The idea of rewarding innovation isn’t new, companies have been running new ideas programs for many years. But in most cases, only ideas that work our get rewarded. When it comes to major projects, the big gongs, bonuses and promotions go to the people who’s projects are a major success.

But Google’s Astro Teller thinks differently.

Astro (isn’t the perfect name for a guy with this job) is Head of “X”, a unit owned by Alphabet, the parent company of Google. “X” is Google’s “moonshot” division where they work on highly risky projects like self-driving cars, a Google contact lens and mysterious floating barges that, as yet, have no known purpose. I met Astro at a conference recently where he talked about his unconventional approach to project management and reward.

Astro told us that most “X” projects end in failure and he wants his team to get to that failure quickly so they can get on with the next project. The more projects that they kill as failures, they quicker they get to the projects that will really work. It’s not necessarily how you’d think of things but it definately makes sense.

Projects take time and cost money, the longer they run the more they cost. By recognising and rewarding failure, Astro gets his team to work on the hardest part of a project first so they can find out if there is an impassable bnlock, an achilles heel. Once they find it, he rewards them for calling it early so they can kill the project and move on.

So if you really wanty to create a culture of innovation, you need to accept the real risks in that. Back projects and reward staff for the ideas and the progress rather than the end result and you’ll start to build a culture where innovation, success and failure is all part of the job.

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