C. Framing failure as an important part of success

“Failure” must be viewed not as an obstacle to progress, but as a critical component to the success of continuous improvement.

To innovate successfully, healthcare leaders need a process for continuous improvement that can accommodate what we prefer to avoid: failure. Both panelists and participants challenged the prevailing fear of failure that handicapped the exploration of new ideas. They largely agreed that the healthcare system would be better served by acknowledging failures as the necessary by-product of innovative progress.

Tackling the issue from the perspective of process design, Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO, a leading design firm, believed it was important to accelerate the cycle of testing, failing, and learning. “We’re not very smart,” he said. “So we have to learn very fast. Failure is an extremely efficient form of learning. The principle we operate under is to put yourself in the place where you can fail as fast as possible and figure that you get to learn faster.”

“Failure is an extremely efficient form of learning... put yourself in the place where you can fail as fast as possible.”

– Tim Brown

President and CEO of IDEO

“Failure often contains the seeds of success,” said Lander. “If you are willing to look hard at a failure, you can ask why it failed. But if you just keep it internally, you don’t. If you’re willing to expose it to others, you may learn a lot.” Terrance G. McGuire, Co-founder and Managing General Partner of Polaris, Partners concurred, noting that Polaris had learned from the digital world “where failure is not a bad thing; it’s something to be learned from and brought forward.” Perhaps ironically, the opinion expressed by many at the conference was that being “successful at failure” planted the crucial seeds of experimentation required for meaningful improvement.

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