Does Your Organization Encourage Risk, Creativity And Failure?


Has your workplace, and the people who work there, created a culture where creativity and risk are encouraged? Where failure – and learning from it – are not just accepted but encouraged? And is there anywhere in your day-to-day interaction where the words caring and love for each other have their place?

I am part of a group in my workplace that has partnered up with staff from another organization in another city, to explore the topic of Human-Centered Design. We’ve been meeting both apart from each other and collectively since the fall of last year, and with each meeting, we progressively understand more about this concept. We’re getting close to our conclusion, which ironically we hope is just another beginning. There would be limited valued in undertaking any project if it were only academic in nature after all. It will begin and spread throughout our organizations with our group, and it will change how we go about responding to and designing for those we serve.

Here today though, I want to explore with you this idea of encouraging and promoting the elements of creativity and risk, where people feel supported and encouraged without the threat of reprisal and punishment; within a culture of love, caring and trust.

So suppose you are passionate about your work. You’re invested in the work you do whether you’re in an Upper or Middle Management, or front-line role. You’re always looking for ways to improve the quality of the products or services you deliver to your customers or clients. Presumably, you’re not the only one who feels this way, so you’re surrounded by others who have some creative ideas; you’re all rowing in the same direction. If you worked in a physical environment that encouraged this kind of culture, you’d likely make many errors as well as have success in designing the programs and products you roll out. While your successes would be applauded and appreciated for improving the bottom line, wouldn’t it be great if your failures were more than just tolerated, they were equally appreciated because of the information they produced and the learning you could extract from those failures?

I’m sure somewhere in your lifetime you’ve read a quote or seen a picture of a working lightbulb with Edison’s there stating how he failed a thousand times before getting it right. How many times would failure be tolerated in your workplace by your supervisor? I’m guessing you don’t have that kind of freedom to fail without repercussion!

Some organizations discourage creativity and risk-taking altogether. Some organizations permit risk-takers, but only for some people and they are segregated apart from others in, ‘the lab’ or at a certain level in the organization. If you haven’t made it up the chain to that level, you’re expected to do things just the way you’re told without deviation or much thought. How then, once you reach a certain level do you flick on the creativity switch that’s been in the off position for 7 or 8 years for example?

Now, let’s be clear; I’m not advocating to the extreme where an employee takes all the firms liquid assets and risks them in Vegas on one spin of the wheel. That’s risk-taking behaviour granted, but the consequences of failure and chances of success don’t justify the risk.

One of the most frustrating things an employee who embraces creativity and risk-taking can experience is to be supervised by an ultra-conservative Manager who crushes ingenuity, punishes failure, and keeps the creative person chained down; especially if the Manager appears to favour creativity and risk-taking in some other employee on their team. We’re talking personality and chemistry; the ‘I like you but not you’ kind of mentality where favouritism is rampant.

I mentioned workplaces where caring and love are embedded in the culture and how employees are often encouraged to care for each other. ‘Love’ however, is for some a heavy, overly-powerful word that seems out of place. What behaviour would be observed to be an expression of love for your co-workers? Okay get that image of those two in the broom closet out of your head; I’m talking love not sexual intercourse. If it’s okay to love your work, why can’t you just as easily love others that love their work too?

Now I’m not talking about some Utopia where it’s always some big love-in. Seriously, there are people with enthusiasm and passion who are drawn to organizations that encourage a culture of creativity and risk-taking; where people are trusted and encouraged to experiment. These environments acknowledge that with experimentation come trial and error, success and failure; and learning from failure is vital to improving service delivery and improving on the experience of the end-user.

Think about your workplace. Do you have a colleague that is always pushing the boundaries, experimenting and offering up new ideas? Or do you find there’s a person who is always digging in their heels, preaches the status quo and is afraid of change and innovation? Which of the two are you and are which of the two are their more of where you work? If you find you’re in the majority you might feel comfortable, but if you see yourself in the minority you might not feel you fit in on your team or in the organization the way you’d ultimately like best.

Where do Trust, Risk-Taking, Experimentation, Failure, Creativity thrive in your organization?

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