A willingness to fail is what drives innovation

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There is nothing wrong with being confident in your core offering, but it is also important to keep abreast of market changes and experiment with new technologies that can revamp your product or service
Mobile app to order food online

Technology is increasingly being used as a business differentiator; it delivers competitive advantages and opens up new markets for companies that effectively tap into the potential of disruptive tech. The importance of innovation is not limited to tech companies; is just as crucial for businesses in the food and drinks space. 

To effectively innovate, however, businesses must see past common platitudes to the effect of ‘you must innovate or die’. While such statements are true to an extent – indeed, companies that remain complacent risk losing their market share and alienating consumers – they also risk instilling fear rather than invoking creativity. 

To pursue true innovation, businesses must be willing to fail and learn from their mistakes. Here’s what we can learn from companies with experience in embracing new technology. 

Innovation, failure, and Covid-19

Companies in the food retail space have long realised the need to adapt to the new digital landscape, even if their core offering has nothing to do with tech. 

It has become increasingly clear – particularly during the pandemic – that technology is the answer to not only managing costs, but also increasing revenue opportunities. 

Ocado, for instance, has gained a strong foothold in the food delivery space. But it is much more than just the online grocery delivery service it once was: it has gone beyond its ‘grocer’ status and now builds everything from consumer-facing websites to warehouse robotics.

We also see the uptake of technology at Morrisons. The supermarket now utilises its ‘Smart Platform’ leaving many of the technical and logistical challenges of e-commerce to Ocado. 

There are no secrets to Ocado’s success: it simply relentlessly pursued innovation by assessing current trends and considered how technology would allow it to up its game and move into new markets. 

Ocado also did not shy away from enlisting the help of third-party experts; a lesson in innovation that every company can learn from. 

Ocado’s next-generation warehouse was created with the help of product design and development firm Cambridge Consultants, with whom they worked to create a complex system of controlling and coordinating the movements of hundreds of thousands of grocery-laden crates. 

Yet even giants in this space have had their fair share of failure. Take McDonald’s. The iconic chain continues to set the pace for innovation in the fast-food industry, and yet they too have taken missteps along the way. 

One particularly expensive mistake was the introduction of the ‘Made for You’ concept, which allowed greater personalisation for customers. 

The initiative involved food made to order, which required expensive equipment upgrades and ultimately slowed down waiting times, despite customers being happy with the original model. 

It has since overcome this hurdle and continues to invest heavily on digital innovation. Investments in its mobile app, bringing voice technology to its drive-thrus and, and rolling out outdoor digital menu boards are all examples of this. 

All businesses in the food and drink space can take inspiration from the determination of these two companies to keep pushing their company forward. After all, thriving in today’s challenging times means not being complacent and keeping abreast of market trends. 

Failure is part and parcel of innovation 

Reaching such levels of success will likely not come without a breadcrumb trail of failures. But an inquisitive mind, a passion to be better, and a willingness to accept the fact that not every venture will be successful are what stands progressive businesses apart from competitors that remain tied to the status quo

Corporates are notoriously less willing than their nimbler counterparts to take risks that might take their company forward. 

Studio Graphene recently polled over 750 senior decision-makers in the UK, and 45% said their organisation is too risk-averse to embrace innovative technologies. This figure jumps to 70% from those in large businesses.

Integrating the elusive ‘innovation culture’ – and with it, a willingness to take risks – is by no means an easy feat. However, it starts with looking inwards and exposing the barriers that stand in the way of creative thinking. 

Corporates tend to fall into the trap of relying too heavily on outdated systems and equipment, rather than pursuing fresher and more relevant technologies. This can be thought of as the ‘physical trap’. 

At the same time, there is the psychological trap of fixating too heavily on what made a company successful rather than attempting to revamp the offering. 

There is nothing wrong with being confident in your core offering – indeed, this is of paramount importance – but it is also important to keep abreast of market changes and experiment with new technologies that can revamp your product or service. 

In the age of Covid-19, this might be shifting to digital if you have previously relied on physical footfall in your store, or exploring new payment systems that will make the customer experience touch-free and seamless.

Willingness to fail drives innovation

And finally, we cannot overlook the emotional elements which are at play behind people not innovating. After all, being risk-averse is more than just a business mindset: it is a personal one too. 

If you’re a chief information officer, a chief technical officer, a chief operations officer, or even a chief executive officer at a big firm, you might be more concerned with not rocking the boat and doing a solid job. People don’t want to stick their head above the parapet on a personal level. 

Business leaders should keep this in mind when encouraging out-of-the-box thinking. Going against the flow involves giving decisionmakers and employees the tools and support they need to put forward new ideas and see them through. 

Whether that is by creating a department that is dedicated entirely to testing new ideas, or through encouraging employees to spend some time developing ideas for how the business can incorporate new technologies, business leaders should be confident that no suggestion goes unnoticed – and that failures are celebrated just like successes. 

Even though failure can be painful, it gives businesses the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and grow. 

Trying something new might be rewarded, but if not, it will nevertheless allow business leaders to quickly identify where they went wrong and gain a better understanding of what to avoid or alter in the future to avoid a repeat. 

The cost of doing nothing is far greater than taking a risk, so I hope to see more entrepreneurs innovate and take their business to the next level.  

About the author

Portrait photo of Ritam Gandhi
Ritam Gandhi
Founder and director at | Website

Ritam Gandhi is the founder and director of Studio Graphene, a London-based company that specialises in the development of blank canvas tech products including apps, websites, AR, IoT and more. Studio Graphene has completed over 100 projects since first being started in 2014, working with both new entrepreneurs and product development teams within larger companies.

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