Stupid is the New Brilliant — Is Your Company OK With Risk-Taking?

Everyone wants to be innovative. Companies think that because the word appears on their website in 42 point font that makes it so.

But what is innovation other than a de rigueur core value? Innovation is doing something new — forging a new path.

The problem is, only people who fail need a new path. They move forward in directions no one else has anticipated. People who succeed stay in the same place.

It would stand to reason, then, that only companies who allow for mistakes are innovators.

“This may be a stupid idea, but …”

Whenever you hear these words in a meeting, you best put down your phone and listen because it means one of three things:

  • It IS a stupid idea.
  • It is a valid idea that everyone was thinking but was too afraid to bring up.
  • It is a flash of genius.

You can tell a lot about your IQ (innovation quotient) by which category your company frequents most. If you get mostly the first scenario, well, I can’t help you. If you get mostly the second, your organization punishes risk and experimentation required for innovation. If you get mostly the 3rd, your company is a safe zone for failure and hence, innovation.

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Is your organization fail-safe?

  • How does your company encourage experimentation?
  • Is trying something new rewarded or penalized?
  • What happens when failure occurs?
  • How do leaders model behavior of calculated risk and failure recovery?
  • How does the talent pool respond to ambiguity, shifting conditions, and failure?
  • How are mistakes internalized and used as a basis for learning?

My colleague, Martha Duesterhoft and I gave a webinar recently on the difference between performance and potential, and a major ingredient in potential was having intellectual curiosity and a willingness to experiment and fail. But in order for these people to be true innovators, they have to have a ripe environment in which to operate.

Can you put that on your website?

This was originally published on PeopleResult’s Current blog.

Barbara Milhizer, CCP, SPHR is a partner at PeopleResults, a human capital consultancy focusing on change, organization, talent and communications/new media. Barbara’s background includes over 15 years of HR with key leadership roles in rewards & recognition and talent strategy at both Accenture and PeopleResults. Contact her at