We talk about innovation and disruption, but are we brave enough to risk making mistakes? And what holds us back from daring to innovate?

I’ve been thinking about innovation and creativity a lot. We applaud innovation in financial services (FS), as it’s not easy to be creative and it’s certainly not always welcomed with open arms in a highly regulated industry. We shout about innovation and disruption in technology, yet many FS organizations fall into behavioral patterns that discourage true creativity.

In this blog series, I want to explore what it means to be creative and innovative in FS. Each post will answer a question around innovation—why, what, how—which I will bring back to FS organizations and our journey to the cloud in my third post.

Why do we need to be brave to innovate?

To create, you need to be bold; you need to have the courage to stand alone; to try something no one has tried before. In a nutshell—you need to be vulnerable.

Author, researcher and storyteller Brené Brown in her TED Talk on The Power of Vulnerability says it is “the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change”.

But people are curious beings; we fight vulnerability and stifle our own creativity in the process. Brown defines vulnerability as our ability to take emotional risks and face exposure, and says it’s the most accurate measurement of courage.

To create, to innovate, is to make something that never existed before. But that means you don’t have a blueprint, or a road map, or any indicators of how it should be done. It means doing something with no guarantees, taking a risk and maybe even failing. This makes you vulnerable.

How can you manage this vulnerability? In an interview with Forbes, Brown explains the difference between perfectionism and striving for excellence. Perfection holds us back; it’s a shield we use against the world, while striving for excellence propels us forward. Perfection asks: “What will people think?” Striving for excellence asks: “How can I improve?” We can manage our vulnerabilities first by acknowledging them and second by seeing them as beautiful strengths, not weaknesses. We manage vulnerability by using it to strive; by owning our mistakes and having empathy for our weaknesses; embracing our imperfect selves and asking for help.

The business world needs to create a culture and an atmosphere of excellence where colleagues are not afraid to ask for help; that encourages colleagues to collaborate and solve problems together. Imagine how much happier your employees would be if they were encouraged to strive for excellence, rather than perfection.

Why failure is essential for innovation

As the quote by the founder of the light bulb shows, failure is an essential part of creativity and growth. In his book, Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success, John C. Maxwell encourages us to make failure a regular part of our lives. He says: “Everything in life brings risk. It’s true that you risk failure if you try something bold because you might miss it. But you also risk failure if you stand still and don’t try anything new.”

It’s time we went back to the roots of creativity; to be okay with coloring outside the lines; to realize that when we take great risks, the rewards are often greater, too.

I had a conversation with someone recently around STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and the volunteer work we do within the UK and across the globe—and how girls are much more creative by nature. We don’t want girls to lose their innate creativity. We want to channel that creativity to do work that can have a meaningful impact and change the world. We need to do more to foster their imaginations, and to encourage women to be their authentic selves as they grow in their careers. Here, of course, we hark back to vulnerability, for as Brown says, it takes courage and compassion to be who you really are.

Given that traditionally a large number of women work in the human resources (HR) function, HR has a head-start on other functions in taking advantage of that creativity punch. We need to encourage HR professionals, and especially women, to be brave; to be the bold one standing out, pushing for the new, for something different.

Why are we talking about failure, anyway?

The challenge in FS organizations when it comes to innovation is not a shortage of ideas, but scaling them with value. For this, we need to adopt a “growth mindset”.

Author Carol Dweck defines “growth mindset” in her book Mindset: the New Psychology of Success as the idea that success is something that can be attained through hard work, learning and training, as opposed to something that is fixed or based on innate abilities. There’s a definite link between failing well, searching for excellence, innovation and learning as we go—and FS organizations need to foster that growth mindset, the idea that I can always become better, in the workforce.

Let’s go back to the beginning. Why do we create? We create to connect with the world and each other. In FS, we create to make the world better, to enhance the lives of people through products and services they didn’t have before.

Why do we need to fail? Because we are the pioneers, forging ahead, making a new path so the people coming behind us don’t have to struggle. They can enjoy the comfort of the thing we created, even if it took 10,000 attempts. There’s no shame in failure, and we have to change the stigma around failure. What is key is to fail fast and often, remembering your mistakes only long enough to learn from them—and then keep moving.

In my next post, I’ll talk about what FS organizations can gain by encouraging their workforce to be bold and to take risks.

To find out more about digital HR in FS or to join us at the Change Directors Forum and People Innovation Forum in London, please contact me here or on Twitter @knott_nic.

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