Failure is most definitely an option in the pursuit of innovation

Published: August 31, 2019

Updated: September 1, 2019

Author: Luke Jones

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Here’s something to keep away from the executives in your company: If you’re looking for innovative ideas, its best to keep executives out of the brainstorming sessions and rely on frontline staff to drive change.

According to Aly Dhalla, CEO and co-founder of Canadian insurtech company Finaeo, ideas some from everywhere, but not usually from executives.

“If you ask most C-level executives, they’re so disconnected from the ground that their ideas are some of the worst ones ever,” he told attendees during a panel discussion at the Insurance-Canada.ca Executive Forum in Toronto this week.

“The people on the ground who are dealing with the problems have the ideas you need surfaced to the top.”

Dhalla’s advice was part of an explanation on why failure happens and why it should be accepted when striving for innovation. He says that many insurance executives cannot accept that innovation is usually connected to failure.

“If you’re going to get to ‘right,’ you’re going to have to go through a lot of iterations of wrong,” he said. As an example, he cited a company that couldn’t deal with the idea that innovation is often the result of previous failed attempts.

“The quicker we can wrap our heads around that counter-intuitive point, the quicker we can start to uncover the steps involved to get from [the original] concept, to iterative execution, to what ‘right’ looks like in the mind of the customer.”

According to Dhalla, the majority of ideas will collapse, and the failure is normal. “There are probably 995 failures to get to five potential rights, and in there only one is market-ready in terms of viability. I think it’s more a mindset than it is a tactic.”

Sachin Rustagi, director of digital innovation for Gore Mutual, agreed and said companies must learn to move from idea to idea quickly to find the successful innovation.

“We call it ‘fail fast.’ We are actually very open to that. We have a list of things we want to do that is based on strategy, and if we fail, we pivot,” he said on the panel. “All those ideas – wherever they originate from – [when they fail], you pivot, fail, pivot, fail, pivot, and at one point you will reach a great success. So as long as you are not tied to KPIs based on each of those fails and success, you can keep on going.”