Are you Building to Fail or Failing to Build?

by Idris Mootee

Failure is part of building to last. I Hope I’m Not Confusing You.

Are you Building to Fail or Failing to Build?by Idris Mootee

We love to read successful innovation and design stories of how a cool idea turns into great success story. The reality is most cute or good ideas don’t make it to the executive’s desk and even for those who did, most products and services launched to the market ended up failed. What good is innovation if the failure rate is so high and how we wonder how it would impact our credibility or career future? Is it a good thing after all? Do we know why we fail? Most don’t have any idea.

How do we anticipating failing as part of design thinking? How fast should be fail? How soon should we fail? What’s the right mindset? “Dream to Fail” or “Fail to Dream?” Or should be thinking about how to “Build to Fail” or “Fail to Last?” What is right approach to embrace a culture of failure? Fail often and fail faster is a bad idea, I know how easy it is for people to say, “oh you should fail more and fail often”. That means you’re no good in innovation management or don’t understand how to manage innovation risks.

Business schools do not celebrate failure and design schools spend too little time understand how not to fail. If you’ve failed too much and too often then it doesn’t reflect well on you. And if you’ve never failed, it means you never tried anything innovative. And if you tell me your innovation success rate is 70% or 80%, you don’t know what innovation is all about.That’s part of the reason I wanted to publish M/I/S/C Magazine.

So what design thinking has to do with failing forward? Design thinking is about helping business managers (with no design training) to understand “play” and “exploring white space.” We should question the practice of segregating design thinking solely for use by so-called “design professionals.” What’s the social basis of separating design and business?

There are semantic gaps, conceptual blocks, and social and definition barriers between design and business. What are the first stops teaching business managers the concepts of design thinking? And what’s design thinking? Most common description includes application of ethnographic research, strategic foresight, sense-making, multidisciplinary teams, strategic framing, visual mapping, strategic prototyping and iteration and form-giving. So how can entire organizations benefit from design thinking in their everyday jobs?

With some exceptions, both design industry and business community is lacking an understanding of design thinking and its potential role in business strategies and decisions making. Design thinking is a mind-set, common languages, a practice, a set of tools as well as a framework to generate more and better solutions or options. It is where D-School meets B-School.

It is not creative brainstorming; in fact it is quite the opposite of that. Design thinking is a systematic way to identify and frame issues; develop multiple solution options; test them with rapid prototypes; and iterate on them. To prototype is to strategize.


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Idris MooteeIdris Mootee is the CEO of idea couture, a strategic innovation and experience design firm. He is the author of four books, tens of published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats.

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  1. You ask some very good questions. I think you’ll find this post by Vijay Govindarajan and Mark Sebell on the positive power of failure to be of interest: http://blogs.hbr.org/govindarajan/2011/03/the-positive-power-of-failure.html

  2. Great article. I love the concept of “design thinking.” Please feel free to drop by my blog too, where I’ve put down some thoughts about design: wwww.dwayneflinchum.com

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