Fail fast to succeed sooner
As soon as someone mentions innovation, people start talking about risk, failing and how it’s important to fail. Let’s face it - no one likes to fail or admit failing and the charity sector is no different.
In the corporate world the attitude to failure can be different. Google sees failure as an essential part of their evolution and as a business have an expectation of an 80 per cent failure rate on new product development. Proctor & Gamble aim for a 50 per cent success rate to encourage more ideation.
Open Innovation approaches encourage multiple, fast, failure and iteration of ideas; like the concept of the Lean Startup coined by Eric Ries. This means releasing a product at the earliest opportunity and developing it based on feedback from early customers.
Charities often feel pressured to wait until a new product is ‘perfected’. This may sound logical, but in practice makes little sense. Your audience and marketplace is constantly evolving; and the most suitable products should reflect feedback from those constant changes.
Failing fast and failing early minimises your risk of failing big and failing publicly. Charities are under scrutiny regarding how they operate and spend their resources, a combination that can make them risk averse. The irony is that open innovation involves failing fast, cheaply and quickly which actually reduces the risk of making more costly, public mistakes.
One of the best ways to fail fast to succeed sooner is through prototyping. Prototyping is a sample or model of your idea, whether it’s a product, service or new technology. The earlier you can prototype the idea the better. If it’s a service, role play it. If it’s a product, sketch it or make it from cardboard and sticky tape. Often, the more amateur it looks the better; as people are less apprehensive about giving honest feedback to something that is clearly work in progress.
So with honest insight, you can develop the prototype to the next iteration. Failing fast, making changes and asking for input from others is the whole ethos of Open Innovation. Make your new idea visible at the earliest stages; see it as an integral part of the process, just another stage of development.
Prototyping also demonstrates the ethos of learning by doing. You can read about the theory of Open Innovation and the power of the crowd - but I think you will learn more by being brave and having a go. As part of the Open Innovation Programme, Foodcycle asked for input into their Supper Hero fundraising product from supporting restaurants and companies, saving them time, resource and giving them a better product. The Children’s Society went out on the streets of Newcastle to test the publics’ response to their acquisition idea ‘Geordie Magic’, which helped refine their ideas and the locally-tailored brand. Marie Curie tested their bingo idea with users and the National Trust tried their Big Family Day Out at a group of properties in the North West region, before making a decision to roll out the programme nationally.
‘The supporter is king’ - Keep Britain Tidy
Keep Britain Tidy have had to adapt to funding cuts, having no choice but to develop new sustainable income streams. For the first time, experimentation and risk taking have become business as usual.
As part of the Open Innovation Programme, Keep Britain Tidy began testing and developing a project to make it easier for their supporters to share time, skills, resources, money and take action in their local communities and nationally through the Love Where You Live sharing network.
Keep Britain Tidy put their supporters at the centre of this idea. They toured the UK in March on a series of Regional Roadshows reaching over 500 supporters and sharing the Love Where You Live project vision and a prototype of the platform. Feedback was then incorporated into the next iterations of the site to be shared with the community in June. Again this was tested with supporters and an online feedback platform was setup to gather live feedback to support improvements and bug fixes during in-life development. The site continues to grow and develop with small iterations and changes all the time based on feedback from real supporters.
Getting better at failure
Many of the charities on the Open Innovation Programme initially thought innovation was about technology. It may be, but it’s not the most important part. For innovation to work, it is critical to have the right people. It is the role of the leader to shift the operational constraints of your organisation to plan for a level of experimentation and failure, and in doing so to give teams permission to fail, and even to expect or require a level of failure in order to ensure that genuine risks are being taken. There is bravery and an art to encouraging this approach that is not currently ‘normal’ in the charity sector.
Through working with the Open Innovation charities and exploring how they worked and developed their ideas, the strongest results came from teams that displayed the following five qualities:
Five qualities to find:
1. Excellent network builders who restlessly look for opportunities to make connections across a range of industries and sectors
2. They know they don’t have all the answers, and that their role is to work with others and together find the answers
3. Infectious enthusiasm, the ability to inspire ideas and enthusiasm in others and communicate to a wide range of different audiences
4. Resilience and pragmatism – they know that not everyone will like an idea and they don’t take it personally
5. Strategic thinkers who can see the long term picture and keep focused on the end goal
At an operational level, as a leader, consider how you can encourage your teams to share and test ideas early on through sharing at team meetings, running ideas workshops, developing project groups, leaving the prototypes out on desks for passers-by to look at, or even a volunteer team of customers and end users tasked with giving feedback. Choose whatever method will work for your organisation and make getting better at failure part of your team’s every day work.