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This article was based on episode 038 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher.

Failure gets a bad rap, at least is most of the business world. Failure means we didn’t work hard enough, didn’t think strategic enough, didn’t act fast enough, didn’t plan well enough...You get the idea. Yet, according to this week’s guest, Jesse Fowl, failure is a critical element to the innovation cycle. Without failure, we can’t learn or discover new, better ways.

Jesse Fowl is Managing Director and Lead Strategist at Solomon where he coaches clients to build environments in which systems are designed for innovation (and failure), establish teams with clear roles that create a culture of innovation, and set goals around the volume of ideas, not only outcomes.


One reason failure is so feared is the public humiliation and potential career derailment that often accompany it. According to Jesse, if you want to encourage more “fail fast, fail cheap, fail often” behavior, the best way to do it is to hide the failures.

As managers, we need create safe spaces for our employees to fail. To so do, team members need to know that when an idea first emerges, there will be an opportunity to test it and if it doesn’t work out, you’ll protect them.

Jesse suggest calling failures “Frequency of Learning.” How fast and how often are we learning what works and what doesn’t? If our frequency of learning is low, we’re either not being creative enough or not experimenting with enough ideas, or both.

To increase your frequency of learning, try this the next time you’re brainstorming potential ideas:

  • Gather of lots of different ideas and select a few to try rather than just one.

  • Design a very small experiment with exact measures to validate whether each of the ideas is worth pursuing further or not.

  • If there are ideas that don’t meet the threshold based on your forecasted measures, quietly capture the learnings and sweep those ideas aside.

  • Report only on the ideas that actually worked.

In the spirit of Lean Startup or Agile, rather than trying to solve the giant goal right away, take small, interim steps during which you fail a lot in order to find the things that work.


Jesse explains that to institutionalize innovation and a tolerance for failure, you need to intentionally design it into your team. His own team sets a KPI for a frequency of learning. He explains, “we want to learn at least 12 new things per week. We're running sprints and we're going to execute experiments to have 12 new pieces of learning based upon [a given] strategic initiative. Knowing whether it's something that disproves a theory or something that proves this theory is going to push us further down the destination to achieving our objective.”

This type of frequent experimentation with the emphasis on learning rather than getting it right makes the creative process more fun for everyone involved because it fosters a sense of excitement or curiosity about what will happen.

Another important way to embed innovation is to hold regular innovation sessions. It’s all too easy to let the whirlwind of daily activities consume us to the point of feeling like innovation and creative experimentation are optional. They’re not. Innovation and experimentation are critical for long term success.


Ideas can come from anyone any time. Jesse noted that we must “respect every individual's capacity for earth-shattering ideas.”

To optimize idea generation, you’ll want to include a variety and diversity of people as well as provide multiple different modes of engagement.

In addition to your team members, consider inviting individuals from other departments, vendors and customers to an ideation session. Getting outside perspectives will help the group stay fresh and introduce additional outside-the-box ideas.

When gathering ideas, consider using the following approaches to enable more contributions:

  • Hold a meeting to generate ideas through discussion and white-boarding.

  • Have people write down ideas first on sticky notes and share them.

  • Use a digital collection method such as a Trello board in which people can add ideas whenever they arise.


Failure becomes a problem when when people won’t let bad ideas die. When an innovative idea grows into a full fledged initiative, it gets tied up with emotions, pride, financial investment and more. It becomes scary to fail. Before moving forward on a large scale, try a whole bunch of small experiments to see what works. Then invest in ideas and strategies that have proven to be worthy of moving forward and be thankful for the failures that enabled everyone get smarter.

Join the Modern Manager community on Patreon and get two templates Jesse uses with his team to manage innovation and learnings, along with other guest bonuses and resources to support your journey to rockstar manager.

This article was based on episode 038 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.


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