Strategy
December 2020

The price of innovation

Innovation comes at a price. We all know it. The greatest inventors and most successful businessmen and -women of all times have demonstrated it to us again and again.

American inventor Charles Kettering, holder of 186 patents who developed the electrical starting motor, stated that „Failing is one of the greatest arts in the world. One fails forward toward success.“

According to Winston Churchill, "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm“, while Bobby Jones, considered one of the greatest golfers of all time, declared that he has „never learned a thing from a tournament won.“

It is common knowledge that it is oftentimes the deep crises and big losses that get us people ahead, evolve us, not the times when everything is running smoothly. It is the stumbling, the imperfect achievements and repeated failures that bring us forward.

Maybe this is what Thomas Edison had in mind, when replying to a reporter who asked how it felt to fail 1,000 times. He answered: „I have not failed 1000 times. I have just found 1000 ways that won’t work.“

Absolutely a necessary change of perspective. We do not learn from succeeding. We need to fail in order to eventually succeed. Failure is inherent to success. It has to be part of the game.

Yet knowing is something completely different than living it.

As design and innovation agency, we are used to working with clients on innovation projects. Together we research, create, try … and also learn what does not work. When it comes to innovating, we believe it is important to be mindful about what we are doing and if necessary step back to rethink once more while taking another perspective.

Also, innovation not only comes at the price of having to deal with failure, but also something old has to die. Re-inventing yourself means first and foremost deciding what you are willing to let go.

The question is: How ready are our clients to invest time, resources and money in „finding ways that won’t work“ as a natural part of the process? And are they really ready to let go parts of their „old“ status quo in order to let something new emerge?

Really understanding our clients, how they think, what they fear, how far they are willing to go and consider new ways is key. It is way more important than just understanding the project. And it should always come first. If those questions are not answered before we start to head into the project, frustration is inevitable.

Taking full responsibility for ourselves, we as well have to honestly ask ourselves how willing we really are to take risks? Are we willing to push our clients out of their comfort zone into the uncertain if we believe it is the right thing to do? Is there a good and empathetic way to do so? Are we ready to risk our clients’ approval, their goodwill in the face of solutions that might be creative, playful, innovative - but, in the end, might not work?

Ultimately we want our clients to succeed just as much as they want to succeed. We are service providers. We want to satisfy our customers. This does not always go hand in hand with what we believe to be the best solution. Yet, we must also consider that our clients are all different in size, personality, company culture - targeting different clients and markets. Of course, not all of them need equally large „levels of innovation“. Weighing things up, taking small steps and making compromises can sometimes be the best solution.

Most importantly, it is about walking the road together with our clients. With the emphasis on together.

by Katja Brandenbusch
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