5.1 Intelligent failure
Intelligent failure refers to those ‘failures that are most effective at fostering learning’ (Sitkin, 1992). Rather than being random attempts or failures, Sitkin argues that intelligent failure has five key characteristics:
- It comes about as a consequence of actions that are well-planned.
- The outcomes are uncertain.
- The overall scale or potential impact is relatively modest.
- It is carried out and dealt with promptly and efficiently.
- The context is familiar enough that there is an opportunity for learning to take place.
In applying the idea of intelligent failure to practical action, McGrath (2011) highlights seven key principles which are highly relevant for those seeking to innovate:
- Decide what success and failure would look like before you launch initiative.
- Convert assumptions into knowledge.
- Be quick about it – fail fast.
- Contain the downside risk – fail cheaply.
- Limit uncertainty.
- Build a culture that celebrates intelligent failure.
- Codify and share what you learn.
By actively engaging with a practice such as Intelligent Failure, innovation on both a personal and organisational level can be strengthened considerably.