One of the key thinkers in innovation and business is Tom Peters. Tom has authored many books and led many major businesses to success as an innovation consultant. I’ve attended some of his seminars and find his work to be not only informational but essential.

 In one of his lectures, he outlines 121 tactics for successfully implementing innovation strategies. The list is impressive and took many years to build, but it requires some study to appreciate. (The list can be seen at under 121 Tactics.) Absorbing the lessons in this list is a way to change your own thinking about innovation. Some teams use this list as a “single point lesson” in their weekly meetings.

The importance of trying and failing is one of the repeating themes in the list. The lessons learned from failure are key to building the best products. Learning what doesn’t work steers us toward refined product designs.

This is not to say we should take failure lightly. We need to insure our culture does not punish failure, but learns from it. Here’s Tom’s point No. 15: “Department of Sanity/Accountability. Screwing up, for instance, is essential to innovating. But there is as much accountability around screwing up as there is around inventory management in a traditional outfit; that is, the innovator takes responsibility for the screw-up and for insuring rapid learning and dissemination of lessons learned and for mounting the follow-up experiment posthaste” This quote underlines the importance of the freedom to try and fail, but also the responsibility of a disciplined, truthful post-mortem.

 A good example of methods to handle failure is to learn from combat pilots. They hold a famous debriefing after each mission, where rank is left outside the room and everyone speaks the truth about what happened. Every view of the mission’s problems is dissected until there’s nothing left to discuss. Blame is not assigned to individuals but to actions. In this way, they all learn from each other to create a team.

 In failing your way to success, remember Tom’s 121st lesson: “Excellence in innovation. We can’t all be Apple or Cirque du Soleil or Basement Systems Inc. But we can damn well die trying.

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