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Resolution for 2015: Drop more F-bombs

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If we want a different outcome for the insurance industry in 2015 and beyond, we have to accept the F-word as part of the package. (No, not that F-word … sheesh.)

Failure. It’s the dirtiest word in business and the most important word for change and innovation.

Why? Because we don’t learn anything of value unless we try something we haven’t done. And when we do that, getting it right the first time is nearly impossible.

That’s not to say that the tried-and-true in our business isn’t valuable. We need to continue to do that which we are great at. However, there are way too many complaints in the industry now about growth, sustainability and the “future of.” Sticking to what has worked in the past, and doing that alone, isn’t enough. If anything it’s the definition of insanity.

So keep doing those things, just put some of your energy and resources into something different. That requires taking some risk, and dropping some F-bombs.

This won’t be another one of those “lessons in failure” discussions. There are plenty of those out there already. In fact, if you do a Google search for that phrase, roughly 87 million entries will come up. That’s enough.

However, this will be about re-framing failure in a way that is more relatable and less threatening. It is a myth that the best innovators in the world are okay with failure. They hate it as much as you do — maybe even more. However, they have a different kind of relationship with it.

What’s different? Essentially three things:

(1) They know how to fail fast

The best innovators know how to test and learn without a big, early bet. The objective is to learn something important relative to an idea without fully implementing a new idea. This is often through the use of prototypes and/or research. Sometimes prototypes are very detailed and sometimes they are quick and dirty, depending on how much is needed to convey an idea and get feedback from your target. 

For the insurance industry, this is hard for two reasons. First, the industry doesn’t have much experience with prototyping and research compared to other industries, and end up either overloading their research with too many details, or not providing enough to feel real. Secondly, many are unwilling to show something incomplete, for fear of rejection internally. However, once a culture has built up the “fail fast” muscle, these issues disappear. 

(2) They know how to fail forward

Related to the above, good innovators know how to extract something of value from failure and use it in the next iteration. The extracting requires detaching the failure from a particular person and allowing it to become a lesson that helps the team understand something new, versus being hidden, or worse, used as a weapon of blame against someone.  To this end, it is important to communicate what’s been learned and celebrate it. Without this ability, we are destined to repeat the same mistakes over and over.

(3) They only fail for “fabulous” 

Innovation is hard. New is hard. The reason you are doing it has to be fabulous. At least to you. If you are not passionate about the thing you are trying to accomplish, then don’t do it. Failure hurts less when you have determination. If you don’t have it, the pain would make any sane person give up. If you don’t believe me, listen to this clip from Steve Jobs explaining this better than I can.

So there is a choice to be made as we enter the New Year. You can resolve to drop more F-bombs in the form of failing fast, failing forward and failing for fabulous, or remain steadfast doing what you know already works. There is no wrong or right answer. It just depends on whether or not you are looking for a different outcome. Will you be on the side of “same” or on the side of WTF? (That’s Willing To Fail … sheesh!)


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