Fail-safe innovation

At Incite we’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of psychological safety. This is the practice of creating an environment where employees feel comfortable to collaborate, try new things and make mistakes without fear of reprisal.  

As much as it is important to instil this ethos within our own business, we are also exploring ways to integrate it into the work that we do with our clients 

Way back in 2015, following a large-scale two-year study, Google identified that psychological safety was one of the five key ingredients of high-performance teams. Since then, the idea has inspired new ways of thinking about organisational change, leadership and most notably, innovation.

Great innovation by its nature needs teams to think creatively, respect and build on each other’s ideas and ultimately, feel safe in the knowledge that they might not get it right first time. These are behaviours that only occur when people feel safe to fail.

We’ve identified three ways to foster a fail-safe culture in the pursuit of breakthrough innovation.

1 / Make sure it’s everyone’s problem to solve

The best way to remove a fear of blame is to make it clear that the success or failure of a particular initiative is down to everyone involved. A problem shared is after all, a problem halved.

Setting out a clear vision and ambition for everyone to work towards – whether that’s a specific challenge to solve or opportunity to innovate into – gives people the confidence that they know what they are working towards and can take the initiative when the time comes.

2 / Get the right people in the room

Many of our clients emerge out of the ideation stage of an innovation cycle with ideas that they are genuinely excited about, only to have them vetoed when they get to the development stage on the basis that they would be too costly or not pass the regulatory test.

Finding ways to collaborate with Research and Development and regulatory teams early in the innovation process is a critical step to creating a ‘yes and’ culture. Importantly, they need to feel part of the wider team – as safe to stick their neck out and take a risk as everybody else.

3 / Engineer discomfort

It may seem counter-intuitive but psychological safety is not about wrapping your colleagues in cotton wool. Personal growth and creative problem solving often happen best when we are pushed out of our comfort zone and forced to think on our feet.

This can be as simple as engaging in a silly ice breaker at the beginning of a workshop to break down barriers and remind us that we are all human and vulnerable, or as complex as carefully selecting the right cross-functional team that will challenge each other just enough to produce the right results.

Importantly though, there needs to remain the backdrop of understanding that judgement will be withheld and differences will be respected.

Get in touch to find out more about how we work with clients to build the right teams, processes and practices across the innovation cycle.