I had the opportunity to attend the Conference Board of Canada Business Innovation Summit in Toronto recently. The luncheon presentation was entitled: “From ideation to commercialization, managing and driving the innovation process.”  Lahav Gil, CEO and founder of Kangaroo Group, was the first presenters for the session. I really liked his thinking and enjoyed the premise of his talk which was that “fear inhibits innovation.” To help inspire innovation he suggested that organizations should be tolerant of failure. To a certain extent I agree with him; however, like most management theories there are limits to “acceptance of failure”.

The crux of the “Cultural Achievement Paradox” is how you balance a playing to win attitude with a culture that is accepting of failure. I asked Lahav this question during Q&A and his response was “Perhaps you need to change the definition of winning”.

Sometimes you can’t change the definition of winning.

What if at Vancouver 2010 the Own the Podium program had set the bar for “personal best” instead of excellence? Where would Canada have ended up in the medal standings at Vancouver 2010?  Canada had the dubious distinction of having been the only Olympic host nation never to have won a gold medal. This happened not once but twice in Montreal (1976) and Calgary (1988). The philosophy and mindset going into Montreal and Calgary was for athletes to achieve personal bests. Own the Podium put in place a program to achieve excellence and win. Sometimes winning is the goal.

The other side of the coin and to Lahav’s point is that organizations must be accepting of failure to achieve higher levels of innovation and I agree.  In dysfunctional organizations there is always a very real and palpable fear of failure that inhibits innovation.  There is little doubt that fear of failure inhibits innovation.

The question I would pose to you then is, how do you facilitate a culture with a drive to win, yet at the same time is accepting of failure?

– Ian Graham