In innovation, do not fear failure

Innovation involves a certain amount of trial and error. The companies that are best at it can mitigate how often they err, yet in the end experimenting can lead to big breakthroughs. Encourage risks and allow for a certain amount of mistakes - even the biggest mistakes can lead to some positive results down the line.

Take New Coke (aka Coke II), for example.


Taking a risk: Coke 2

Perhaps one of the largest innovation risks of the past 50 years was the 1985 announcement by soft drink manufacturer Coca-Cola that it was revamping the formula of its core product. New Coke was unveiled in 1985 to a press armed with questions provided by Coke's main competitor, Pepsi. Adding fuel to the PR bonfire: The new offering alienated a segment of the southeast United States that felt a regional connection to the product, which was invented there.

The company didn't stop making New Coke, at least not initially - to respond to the overwhelming backlash Coke re-released its original formula a few months later, dubbing it Coca-Cola Classic. According to Wikipedia, sales were saved in large part to the understated-in-comparison release of Cherry Coke. Today, Coca-Cola still enjoys a significant market share and is at the top of its game.

If it's true that "There's no such thing as bad press," Coke II will always be an object lesson in how a company trying a radical innovation, one that ultimately flopped, can rebound and succeed. That's not always the case, but changing the formula of your core product is always going to be risky.

Ask yourself: How will I respond when my competitor feeds the media its questions? What will I say to the portion of the market who will abandon me on the basis of one decision? And if you swing and miss with The Next Big Idea, how will you re-energize and approach the blackboard again?

Be prepared for failure, but do not fear it.

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