Innovation is a very hot topic these days. Innovation is recognized - rightly - as a key to both current and future competitiveness. Driving innovation is a complex process. There's no "one size fits all" approach that will guarantee successful innovation across different enterprises and verticals.

But that doesn't mean that there aren't any common threads that can contribute to the process of driving innovation in a wide range of contexts.

And this article - "CIOs: Encourage innovation with offbeat rewards" hits on one of the keys that I believe can help drive innovation.

Rewarding failure.

Of course, that's not rewarding all failure. That would be suicidal. But there's a key idea here.

As one of the leading CIO resume writers and CIO executive coaches globally, I'm lucky enough to spend my work life talking with some very sharp people - CIOs and other technical leaders who have great ideas, and who have built teams that constantly want to push the envelope.

So the issue isn't ideas - great, important ideas that can "move the needle" as one of my clients puts it.

The disconnect comes when the fear of risk outweighs the reward of innovation.

Driving innovation requires embracing very real risk...
Driving innovation requires embracing very real risk...

Now, bottom line is bottom line - and endless, expensive innovation that doesn't deliver results is unrealistic.

But so is the view that - if there isn't ROI in the first quarter - or even the first year - the initiative was a failure.

I recently blogged on the need for CIOs to communicate long term value - and to escape for the short term thinking that is endemic in the modern business climate. That short term approach - while profitable in the immediate term - can be costly in the long run.

And no where is that cost more evident than when fear of risk stifles the desire - and ability - to innovate.

That's why "rewarding failure" can be so important. Of course, it's not "rewarding failure" - even that way of speaking may put things in negative terms. Rather, it's rewarding the courage to take a risk, to try something new, to take the chance on something that could be a game changer.

I'm unusual in this - but I'm not a big fan of Steve Jobs. Nothing I know of him leads me to believe that he was a particularly admirable human being. But he was in a position to innovate - not only because he was brilliant, which can't be denied - but because he was in control. He didn't have to put the original iPod - the device that fueled Apple's rise - in front of a committee.

Had his innovative approaches gone before the usual product development committee? Many wouldn't have seen the light of day. And Apple might still be struggling.

Jobs was a unique figure - in a unique place and time. That's not something that's going to return. Innovation, today, does have to go through a committee. ROI and cost benefit analyses do have to be performed.

But the cost of not innovating needs to be clearly addressed, too.

That's why it's so critical to build a culture - from the top down - that embraces risk, and recognizes that without that risk, there may be much less long term reward.

So - if you're the CIO or CEO? Find ways to reward the projects that may not have delivered. But - with a few tweaks - might have changed the world.

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