Four Common Denominators of the Innovator’s Attitude # 1: Make Failure Your Ally

Posted on Jun 6, 2017

The most successful people in the world – the Elon Musks, the Richard Bransons, the Warren Buffetts – see every problem as an innovation in disguise. They seem to instinctively know how to turn problems into opportunities and opportunities into breakthroughs. So what do they do with failure?

Life is change. And innovation is the creative response to change. Getting from how-things-are to how-things-could-be is all about attitude.

How do you cultivate the innovator’s attitude?

In April’s blog, I questioned the comma between “Do what you love” and “The money will follow,” examining what’s inside the little black box in between. In May, I shared my formula for a strategic morning practice to align your thoughts, emotions, imagination and actions with your goals. And this month, all month, I will ask the question:

What does it take to think (and act) like the world’s most innovative people?

Again and again, their own words reveal four common denominators they all share. Each week in June I’ll focus on one.

This week…

1. Make failure your ally.

In a world where change is exponential, companies that become “too big to fail” ensure their eventual demise by eliminating the very resource that made them great… the fearless creativity of their people. Just think Kodak. Without the financial resources for trial-and-error, and the freedom to fail, innovation is an illusion.

According to super-innovator and Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, the greatest innovations in the world come from new companies. “Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”

Great minds think alike.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates factors failure his spreadsheets, “Microsoft is always two years away from failure.” Thomas Watson, Founder of IBM, quantified it: “The way to succeed is to double your failure rate.” And serial innovator Charles F. Kettering built his very success on it: “99 percent of success is built on failure.”

Hindsight is the only way to know what they mean. Today, with 32 years of self-employment behind me, I can look back on many devastating experiences with gratitude: the day I left my last corporate job to go freelance, the day I was fired from a lucrative but life-draining producing gig, the day I put all my belongings in storage because I didn’t know where to go next. Every one seemed a terrible failure at the time; every one was anything but.

Brace. Brace. Brace.

In navigation, attitude is defined as “the orientation of a craft – spacecraft or aircraft – relative to the direction of travel.” And I like that definition for life as well. Pointing yourself in the right direction is the first major step to getting where you want to go. But attitude is no antidote to failure, which is inherent in the process of innovation. Brace yourself; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

So it’s fitting then that one of air travel’s most colorful innovators makes failure part of his strategic plan:

“My attitude has always been, if you fall flat on your face, at least you’re moving forward. All you have to do is get back up and try again.”

                                                                                                 – Richard Branson

Steve Jobs would agree:

“Sometimes life is going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.”

Whether you work within a major company, manage a startup or are a fiercely independent solopreneur, making failure your ally is your first innovative advantage.

Click here to get started today, with my 14-module video course, Reset Your Strategy for Success. 

Next week… the second common denominator: Give up the good for the great.

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Four Common Denominators of the Innovator’s Attitude #2: Give up the Good for the Great.