Try the Flip Side of Failure
By Eric Wright
Innovation has become the modern world’s Holy Grail. The term’s use is almost as common as “new and improved,” which is what its English root means, “to introduce as new,” taken directly from the Latin innovatus, [in-“into”+novus-“new”].
However, like the words “freedom” or “love,” its overuse is quickly diluting its impact. According to The Wall Street Journal, a search of annual and quarterly reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission shows companies mentioned some form of the word “innovation” 33,528 times last year, which was a 64 percent increase from five years ago. In addition, more than 250 books with “innovation” in the title have been published in the last three months, most of them dealing with business, based on an Amazon.com search.
Did I mention that four in 10 executives say their company now has a chief innovation officer? That’s according to a recent study of the phenomenon released by Capgemini Consulting.
This shouldn’t surprise us, as innovation has always spurred mankind’s quantum leaps, from crop rotation to the assembly line, as well as the scientific inquiry demonstrated in Galileo or Einstein. So how do you inspire or nurture a culture of innovation?
There is one quality that seems to be essential and preeminent among the innovators and it is the same one that scares the begeebers out of us…failure.
There are many people who have turned titanic failures into successes. But for me, the modern superhero of this rare breed is Tor Myhren, a former Leo Burnett advertising executive. Unlike most of our professional failures, which remain in relative obscurity, he developed the 2006 Cadillac Escalade Super Bowl ad, which was so phenomenally bad it cost his company the $300 million account. Then, to add insult to injury, the whole sordid tale was written up in The New York Times. Most of us would choke on that bitter pill.
Myhren left the Detroit firm for Grey New York in 2007, just in time for him to take the lead on E*TRADE’s Super Bowl commercial. In the mother of all turnarounds, he helped develop the amazingly successful and iconic E*TRADE baby ads, which remained an engaging and humorous staple for years.
In a story appearing in Fast Money, he spoke of how the experience changed his view of failure. “[I had] a big public failure and, having gone through that, I really admired the people that supported me and especially admired the people who gave me the chance the next year to try to do it again,” he said.
Myhren was named president of the company in 2010 and then their worldwide chief creative officer in 2013. During that time they tripled their number of employees from approximately 350 to more than 1,000, while being named Adweek’s Global Agency of the Year in 2013 and Advertising Age’s Agency of the Year in 2014.
Myhren credits the company’s success to the high value they place on creativity and Myhren believes fear of failure is what kills creative thought. The company even instituted an annual “Heroic Failure Award,” to highlight the importance of risk taking and the potential of failure in anything that is
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing,
doing nothing, and being nothing.”
– Denis Waitley