The art of intrapreneurship relies on working with likeminded people who see the beauty in failure.  Do you acknowledge your own beautiful failure? (Neil Fogarty, Enabling Intrapreneurs, 2018)

At one point, I used to speak widely on the subject of empowerment. Specifically, I used to seek widely on how governments and corporations declaring that people were empowered was a crock.

Empowerment is nothing without enablement, education, and action.

Empowerment in itself is a sop (and works well when it comes to elections or seeking grants / funds) but, in the real world, we need more.

And the same can be said for ‘accepting failure’.

Too many organisations talk about accepting failure whereas the enlightened intrapreneurial enterprises don’t just accept it but seek it out and see a beauty in it.

Failure can be a very simple incident (e.g. too late in submitting a tender) but can also be an intricate and sophisticated affair: people processes and systems all working in some phenomenal symphony that leads to that high point of failure.

Repeated failures tend to lead to success – primarily due to the fact that, after the first (second and third) failure, people persevere. Perseverance and resilience are key elements in Emotional Intelligence and it is no surprise that the successful enterprise is resilient and perseveres.

If you’re trying to solve a problem there are potentially hundreds of possible pathways to take, but only a few are going to lead to the appropriate solution. And the only way to discover that is to try and fail and try again. (source: Baba Shiv, professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business)

Strong intrapreneur leaders will not just accept failure – they will push people to the boundaries; jumping the border from success to failure as they continually explore. Experimentation and failure intertwine to create learning and the new way.

Strong intrapreneur leaders are excited by failure whereas those who talk about ‘accepting failure’ are, in effect, still looking for ways to mitigate risk and reduce the likelihood of failing.

Flawed beauty

In corporations, the leader’s opinion is key: if the leader accepts failure but doesn’t seek it, then innovation and intrapreneurship are slowly strangled by old-style managers, fiefdoms, urban (corporate) legends and the knee-jerk reaction of covering your ass first and being truly amazing second.

Admittedly, repeated failure can be tough to justify unless it is hardwired into the enterprise: how would a business fare if you told your team of commercial catalysts (the internal cadre of intrapreneur mentors) that one of their KPIs is to demonstrate six failures a year each.

How about if you financially incentivise people to fail?

More to the point, incentivise people to fail but to also introduce new lessons learned and new ideas to the organisation.

Are we now ‘accepting’ failure or are we encouraging it?

Seth Godin has written about zooming – making small incremental changes every day (if the change tanks, you can quickly step back with your lessons learned). If the change works, it becomes the new normal. Concurrent to this, assign big innovation to your commercial catalysts.

It’s said that small teams in Google run 3-5,000 experiments a year – as a leader in your organisation, how many experiments and modifications take place? Regardless of the number, do you know of them all?

You shouldn’t – you’re not the boss of every interaction; you’re the boss of an organisation that seeks out change, seeks out failure, seeks out the new way it sees the beauty of failure.

Contact Neil to discuss how to develop the intrapreneur culture in your organisation.

The Beauty Of Failure