A 90% Project Failure Rate Means You’re Doing it Wrong | Human-Centered Change and Innovation

For work that has not been done before, there’s no right answer. The only wrong answer is to say “no” to trying something new. Sure, it might not work. But, the only way to guarantee it won’t work is to say no to trying.

If innovation projects fail nine out of ten times, you can increase the number of projects you try or you can get better at choosing the projects to say no to. I suggest you say learn to say yes to the one in ten projects that will be successful.

If you believe that nine out of ten innovation projects will fail, you shouldn’t do innovation for a living. Even if true, you can’t have a happy life going to work every day with a ninety percent chance of failure. That failure rate is simply not sustainable. In baseball, the very best hitters of all time were unsuccessful sixty percent of the time, yet, even they focused on the forty percent of the time they got it right. Innovation should be like that.

If you’ve failed on ninety percent of the projects you’ve worked on, you’ve probably been run out of town at least several times. No one can fail ninety percent of the time and hold onto their job.

If you’ve failed ninety percent of the time, you’re doing it wrong.

If you’ve failed ninety percent of the time, you’ve likely tried to solve the wrong problems. If so, it’s time to learn how to solve the right problems. The right problems have two important attributes:

I think we know a lot about the first attribute and far too little about the second. The problem with solvability is that there’s no partial credit, meaning, if a problem is almost solvable, it’s not solvable. And here’s the troubling part: if a problem is almost solved, you get none of the money. I suggest you tattoo that one on your arm.

As a subject matter expert, you know what could work and what won’t. And if you don’t think you can tell the difference, you’re not a subject matter expert.

Here’s a rule to live by: Don’t work on projects that you know won’t work.

Here’s a corollary: If your boss asks you to work on something that won’t work, run.

If you don’t think it will work, you’re right, even if you’re not.

If it might work, that’s about right. If it will work, let someone else do it. If it won’t work, run.

If you’ve got no reason to believe it will work, it won’t.

If you can’t imagine it will work, it won’t.

If someone else says it won’t work, it might.

If someone else tries to convince you it won’t work, they may have selfish reasons to think that way.

It doesn’t matter if others think it won’t work. It matters what you think.

So, what do you think?

If you someone asks you to believe something you don’t, what will you do?

If you try to fake it until you make it, the Universe will make you pay.

If you think you can outsmart or outlast the Universe, you can’t.

If you have a bad feeling about a project, it’s a bad project.

If others tell you that it’s a bad project, it may be a good one.

Only you can decide if a project is worth doing.

It’s time for you to decide.

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