Saturday, February 12, 2011

Roadmap to Innovation Part One: Reward Success and Failure, Punish Inaction

This is the first of a series about innovative organizations and how these lessons can be applied to schools.  As teachers, we can learn a great deal from other successful organizations.  

Part One: reward successes and failures, punish inaction and apathy.

Organizations that embrace innovation are successful.  The synergy that is created permeates all aspects of the organization.  This post will explain a slightly counter-intuitive idea- rewarding both successes and failures.

In American society, we routinely reward successes.  It seems like a natural idea.  You do something, do it right, and reap the rewards.  Break out the apple pie.

We also have a tendency to punish failures.  Again, this would seem to prompt people to work harder to succeed.  It seems logical.  However, punishing failure has one really bad consequence- it makes us gun-shy.  If we know we will be punished for attempting a difficult task, we may prefer the security of inaction.  Doing nothing results in no consequence, which is safer than risking punishment.

This creates an obvious problem... innovation grinds to a halt.  The smart organization understands that innovation is the key to success and protects it at all costs.  Innovation always creates some degree of risk.  In order for the people in your organization to take the necessary risks, they cannot fear failure.

The solution is deceptively simple- reward people for attempting new ideas.  If they fail, reward them for trying.  If they succeed, reward them more than if they failed.  People will begin trying new stuff.  Innovation will flow from every orifice of the organization.  The resulting energy will thrust the organization to the top.  In the case of schools, this is exactly where we'd want to be.

So we punish inaction?  You bet.  People that aren't willing to try new stuff will assure organizational mediocrity.  There is no reason this attitude should be tolerated at any level of any organization, especially schools.  Start punishing inaction and you quickly identify these people.  Give them a chance to embrace the idea of experimentation-based improvement.  If they can't hack it, they need to be eliminated.  

For teachers, this same idea should be extended to the classroom.  Encourage your students to try new stuff, and don't be afraid to reward them even if they fail.

Agree?  Disagree?  Leave a comment!


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1 comment:

  1. I learned as a child that saying "no" was safer. It grew to encompass everything and has been a very difficult habit to break as an adult.
    I work myself up and can be daring and bold but it takes its toll internally.

    I agree that rewarding giving something a shot will teach that even though its scary to try something new or to put yourself out there it is not as bad as you imagine it to be and that beginning is often the most difficult part.

    I love love love the part in Meet the Robinsons when the Robinsons cheer on Louis for failing to make the peanut butter and jelly machine work :)