Innovation's Dirty Little Secret by Larry Osborne (Excerpt)

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  • 7/29/2019 Innovation's Dirty Little Secret by Larry Osborne (Excerpt)


  • 7/29/2019 Innovation's Dirty Little Secret by Larry Osborne (Excerpt)




    FAILThe One Thing Leadership

    Gurus Will Never Tell You

    Innovation has a secret, a dirty little secret.

    Those who extol the necessity of innovation seldom mention it.

    They try to sweep it under the rug or tuck it away in the closet.

    They ignore it in the hope that it will just go away. Yet its shadow

    looms over every attempt we make to break out of the box and try

    something new.Make no mistake. If you have dreams of blazing new trails or

    championing major changes, this dirty little secret will smack you

    upside the head before youre done. You cant avoid it. Its the dark

    side of the creative process.

    What is the dirty little secret of innovation?

    Its simply this: most innovations fail.

    They always have. And they always will.It doesnt matter whether were talking about a new product, a

    new program, or a new process. It can be a new company or even a

    new church. When it comes time to start something new or make

    a major change, the surest horse you can bet on is the one called


  • 7/29/2019 Innovation's Dirty Little Secret by Larry Osborne (Excerpt)



    Youd never know this if you listen to the people who write and

    speak about leadership and innovation. They often make it sound

    as if out-of-the-box thinking, burn-the-boats risk-taking, and gutsy

    leadership are all it takes to win the race and rise to the top.

    But despite the great press and sizzle that surrounds the idea of

    innovation, the fact is that most attempts at innovation and major

    change crash and burn. Even organizations and leaders who are

    famous for cutting-edge, innovative strategies have a far longer list

    of failures than successes.

    Now Im not saying that all of our great ideas are doomed to

    failure. Im not saying that change and innovation are too dangerous

    to try at home. And Im certainly not suggesting that change and

    innovation are unimportant or unnecessary.

    No, the pundits are right. If we fail to innovate and change, we

    eventually will lose the race. Well fall to the bottom of the pile and

    slide into organizational irrelevance.

    But that doesnt change the truth that innovation always carries

    significant risks. Failure is far more common than most aspiring

    leaders realize and far more likely than the zealous advocates of inno-

    vation are willing to admit.

    In fact, failure is an integral part of the change process.


    Imagine for a moment that you had tons of money to invest whenthe combustible engine was first invented. Now imagine that you

    also had the foresight to grasp how profoundly it would alter the way

    we live, spawning new industries and radically changing our global

    culture, creating new pockets of enormous wealth.

    Since you couldnt know which specific businesses would rise to

    the top, you probably would have wisely invested as broadly as pos-

    sible in as many of the new automotive companies as you could find.But if you had done this, you would have gone flat broke. Rather

    quickly, because almost all of the innovative startups in the automo-

    bile industry went belly up.1

    The same is true of the airline industry. While manned flight

    has profoundly changed the way we live, if you had invested money

  • 7/29/2019 Innovation's Dirty Little Secret by Larry Osborne (Excerpt)



    in all of the early airline companies, youd have nothing to show for

    it today. Most of them went under. Very few made any significant


    Ditto for the internet. Its an understatement to say that the inter-

    net has changed everything. But those who jumped in too quickly and

    invested in everything that looked remotely promising lost everything.


    As always happens, innovations evil twin showed up to crash the

    party. Despite its game-changing potential and all the talk about a new

    economy with a new set of rules, the old rules prevailed. And most of

    the bleeding-edge early adopters and the first-to-market companies

    (the darlings of the investment community) crashed and burned.


    So if failure is such an integral part of innovation and change, why

    even bother with it at all? Why does something so wrought with pain

    and disappointment get such good press?One reason is the influence of a niche industry that has become

    big business. Billions are spent each year on seminars, training events,

    and books that promise success to leaders (and pretty much anyone

    else) who are willing to take a big risk to try something radically new.2

    If you want to fill a room, sell lots of books, and charge up the

    troops, its counterproductive to point to a high failure rate. In fact,

    its a guaranteed way to cut down on sales and limit speaking engage-ments. So no one talks about it. Instead, the motivational gurus

    focus on stories of against-all-odds success and ignore the many

    casualties along the way.

    A second reason why innovation gets such good press is that most

    failures arent all that spectacular or important. We never hear about

    them because they arent newsworthy. A huge percentage of new

    initiatives never even get off the ground, and among the few that do,many crash and burn with little fanfare.3


    Because if these failures arent connected with our company or

    our employer (or something that makes the national news), we arent

    likely to notice them.

  • 7/29/2019 Innovation's Dirty Little Secret by Larry Osborne (Excerpt)



    The same holds true for new businesses, church plants, and other

    startups. There are countless failures. Think of the trendy new cloth-

    ing store in the local mall. It used to be a Chinese takeout. Before

    that, it was boutique wine shop. Each of these changes represents a

    failed dream, a likely bankruptcy, and a ton of heartache and soul

    searching. But if it wasnt our dream, our bankruptcy, or our heart-

    ache, we arent likely to have noticed.

    A third reason why innovation gets such good press is simply

    human nature. We dont like to think about negative things, even if

    theyre inevitable. How many people do you know who adequately

    plan and prepare for their death? The odds that we will die are astro-

    nomical. But most of us would rather not think about this inevitabil-

    ity at least not right now.

    Its the same with failures of innovation and leadership. They

    surround us. But wed rather not think about them. We chalk up the

    failures of others to foolish ideas, bad planning, or inept leadership.

    We think we are different. We cant imagine the possibility that the

    changes we champion and the great ideas we have just might not be

    so great after all. Were sure that our ideas will succeed where others

    have failed.

    This helps to explain why the dirty little secret of failure remains

    such a well-kept secret. Motivational gurus dont want us to think

    about it. And even though failure is incredibly common, most of

    these failures dont hit close enough to home to notice. On top ofthat, wed rather not think about it or plan for it. Its not as excit-

    ing and sexy as dreaming and thinking about our latest idea for the

    next big thing.

    Yet that raises an important question, the question that drives

    this book: how is it that some people and organizations seem to defy

    the odds?

    How is that some folks successfully innovate and change timeafter time? How do they overcome their failures? How do they maxi-

    mize their successes? What is it that sets them apart? What do they

    know and what do they do that others dont?

  • 7/29/2019 Innovation's Dirty Little Secret by Larry Osborne (Excerpt)




    Why You Shouldnt Trust Everything

    Innovators Tell You about Innovation

    Some innovators are one-hit wonders. Theyre like a band with acatchy tune that goes viral. They score a huge success and then

    are never heard from again.

    Consider the infamous pet rock. In 1975, Gary Dahl and his

    friends sat in a bar grumbling about their high-maintenance pets.

    Out of their grumbling, Dahl came up with the idea for a new pet

    a pet rock. It would never need to be groomed, fed, or cared for. It

    would never get sick, disobey, or die. When Gary took his idea tomarket, it proved to be incredibly popular, selling more than 1.5 mil-

    lion units. Unfortunately, that was the last great idea he had. After

    the success of the pet rock, Garys ideas werent so successful.4

    Sometimes an innovation succeeds because its so novel and off

    the wall that it gains instant notoriety. But the problems with this

    kind of innovation are that its hard to repeat, it doesnt take long for

    the novelty to wear off, and its usually easy to duplicate. So it seldomtranslates to long-term success.

    I once read about an innovative high school basketball coach who

    came up with the ultimate end-of-the-game play. Trailing by one

    point, with only a couple of seconds left on the clock, his team had

    the ball out of bounds. With one player stationed near the basket, he