Experiential Learning Can Drive Innovation

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“The future of innovation is learning how to fail,” per a 2012 article published in the Washington Post. However, is the future of innovation really learning how to fail or, rather, is it learning from that failure?

The article mentions SpaceX as a great example of being innovative through learning from their failures. Using a project management Agile methodology to improve innovation, rescheduling launches of the first commercial spaceflight several times and even aborting launches at the last minute, they could iterate rapidly and recover from failure. SpaceX is now considered by some as a great success in innovation. In fact, just over a week ago, they delivered 10 new satellites in low orbit space for a communication company.

In business, when profitability is at stake, is it really a mistake or a failure? Let’s look at that mistake or moment of failure, like Gary Ridge from WD-40 looks at it. He calls it the “Learning Moment”. That moment when something went wrong, but you learned from it, so you don’t repeat your mistakes. It’s not about assigning blame, it’s about what did the team learn to ensure it doesn’t happen again and can the learning lead to better processes, or better innovations?

So, why is it important to have “Learning Moments” instead of feeling like you’ve failed?

I believe it is because you will feel more comfortable taking what you learned, moving to a new iteration, or even a whole new direction. That leads to better processes or more innovative ideas. You must be comfortable with failing to be innovative.

Innovation is a core value or competency of leadership in many businesses, but how difficult is it to get people to be innovative?

Within Learning and Development, we have been switching to the SAM Model for agile program creation. Allowing program creators to complete work in sprints and check with stakeholders to make sure they are on the right track. What if L&D incorporated opportunities for ““Learning Moments”” to happen in a safe environment? Would that promote a comfort level for being innovative?

Think of a laboratory or experiential learning environment where you are using real life scenarios, gamification or even simulations – not only to mock real world situations, but to have opportunities for “Learning Moments” in a safe environment.

Let’s say you were using business simulation for training, a team makes decisions to run their mock company. They may run their company completely out of cash or lose all their customers because their product doesn’t match customers’ demands. A facilitator can help guide a team to figure out why their company isn’t succeeding and what mistakes happened. They can then learn from their mistakes. Ideally, they internalize how to analyze these ““Learning Moments”” in a safe environment so back on the job when they fail, they know how to analyze what went wrong, what not to do again, and how to course correct. These learning moments teach people to be more comfortable with mistakes.

As L&D professionals, we may find it difficult to teach people to be innovate, but if employees can have “Learning Moments” in a safe environment, they might have more confidence in the real world to fail fast, which leads to a willingness to try new things or “Innovate”.

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