In a remarkable talk at a TEDx event at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IITB) on August 23, 2011, Dr Sujaya Banerjee, Chief Learning Officer, Essar, focused on mistake-tolerance and failure, pointing out it is imperative for organizations to talk about failures.
"It is absolutely imperative to foster a culture of mistake-tolerance, that failure is alright," she remarked. "Unless we acknowledge we've failed, we won't internalize the lessons learnt. Only then can we lead to better solutions and answers."
'Innovation: the essence of a changing world' was the subject of her talk at the TEDx event. TED, a worldwide non-profit, devoted to 'ideas worth spreading,' started off in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: technology, entertainment, design (TED).
Dr Banerjee noted that to foster a culture of innovation it is necessary to revisit the way we raise our children, manage our education system and even our expectations from professionals in our organizations. "There is a compelling need to be able to foster innovation by creating an environment that is mistake-friendly or mistake-tolerant," she pointed out. "There is such a deep sense of shame and embarrassment associated with making mistakes, that often times we in organizations are up against experiences where learning is completely blocked."
She pithily summed up her theme on failure as a stepping stone to success and greater innovation:
- Mistake-tolerance should be associated with innovation. If there is no tolerance for mistakes, for failure, then one cannot expect breakthrough ideas and innovation. If the human mind is shackled with fear, it will be unable to come out with worthwhile ideas.
- We need to instil in our macro culture two integral values – one, an inherent tolerance for failure and to see it as an ongoing journey to success; two, an undying faith in the value of human potential to be able to deliver great and breakthrough ideas.
- We have to build a spirit and a sense of acceptance when it comes to failures if we want to become an innovative nation; give out awards for risk-taking to employees. People in authority – parents, teachers, supervisors, managers, CEOs – should spend time talking about their failures. We have far too many occasions and platforms where only success stories are discussed and celebrated. The starting point to innovation and new ideas is when we accept mistakes.
And to her young audience she had this wish: "I'm going to end by wishing you all the very best and wish you great display of a high spirit that allows you to accept and embrace failure, because it is something that comes along the way to success and innovation. So: fail early, fail often, fail forward."