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Embracing the "X" as you learn to innovate

November 15, 2017

“I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

You’ve been taught that there’s only one right answer to a given problem. Think back to elementary school. Recess. Games. Learning. Early on, we learn that many of our text books have the answers in the back pages. If your answer doesn’t match up with what’s in the back of the book, you’re wrong. Pretty quickly, we catch on that there’s only one right answer.

As adults, this mentality sticks with us. We don’t like being wrong. We want our idea to be perfect before we ever show anyone or submit anything. We strive for perfect data before making any decisions, and we get stuck in “paralysis by analysis” while we search for that perfect data. Months pass without any decision being made as to what direction to take regarding a business problem. Resources, like time and money, are wasted in the process. Sound familiar?

For innovation to succeed, we need to relearn how to think and how to see things. There is no longer one correct answer to a problem; there isn’t a text book to check to see if we’re right.

Think about how young children solve problems they encounter:
1. They see the problem
2. They attempt a solution
3. It fails
4. They learn what didn’t work
5. They try again until they make it work

What we need is a mental reset to get ourselves back to this method of problem solving. Let me explain.

In our Innovation Engineering courses, we teach people to embrace failure. We force them to submit assignments before they’re perfect. A timer at the front of the room counts down as trainees work on their assignments, adding a sense of urgency. The methodology we use to teach innovation challenges the participants to not overthink their assignments; they submit imperfect work because time’s up and the instructor is moving on to a new topic.

Assignments are graded quickly after submission. We use what is called a Cycles to Mastery approach to innovation training: a trainee gets either a checkmark on an assignment, indicating that their answer is solid and no further work is needed, or they get an X, along with feedback on what they need to explore or try in order to improve their answer. The participants are then able to take the feedback, make changes to their assignment and try again. They keep submitting until they achieve 100% understanding of the concept. Now here’s the good part…

Trainees aren’t memorizing information to get an 80% or 90% on an assignment. The Cycles to Mastery approach is what enables real learning to happen. You learn when you get something wrong. When you have the opportunity to keep submitting assignments for grading and feedback, you build your knowledge and skills – you “master” the content. This approach is often uncomfortable at first for many participants, because it’s such a departure from the usual approach to learning. Some participants struggle to get past their perfectionism. Soon enough, they all do.

We tell our Blue- and Black Belts-in-training to “Embrace the X and submit the assignment”, and any past trainees will attest to that. As adults, we need to get comfortable with this type of learning if we want to be truly successful with innovation.

When you are ready to embrace the X, come join us at one of our Innovation Engineering Quick Start programs.

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