Innovation Radar: Brilliant Mistakes – Finding Success on the Far Side of Failure

Everybody knows of instances in their own life where initial “mistakes” or wrong decisions turned out to be exactly the right thing. Trivial examples include going to a party that you never really wanted to attend and ending up meeting the person of your life – or running ten minutes late and thereby avoiding a fatal car crash that had just occured down the road.

But what about the most carefully managed area in life – your own career and business? Thinking that wrong business decisions must mean the end of your career? The opposite may be the case, says Paul J.H. Schoemaker, research director of Wharton’s Mack Center for Technological Innovation and chairman and founder of consulting firm Decision Strategies International.

In his book Brilliant Mistakes: Finding Success on the Far Side of Failure, Schoemaker argues that mistakes often open the door to totally new perspectives and findings – and help you reinvent your business or personal career for good. Mistakes have been the basis for many innovations that revolutionized the way we live today – including the discovery of penicillin and the development of ATM machines.

Knowledge@Wharton features an interview with Paul J.H. Schoemaker, who talks about the concept of brilliant mistakes – i.e. ignoring conventional wisdom at the time – and the innovative potential of this approach. Being risk averse, he says, is not going to take businesses very far and will kill their productivity and their ability to adapt to new markets and opportunities. Instead, both executives and researchers should be able to learn from surprises and turn failures into successes by looking at them from a totally different angle.

Certainly an interesting concept for anyone working in an industry that is characterized by decreasing productivity, lack of true innovation and stagnation – e.g. the pharmaceutical sector. After all, cost-cutting and consolidation have not emerged as effective means to spur innovation.

Interview with Paul J.H. Schoemaker on Brilliant Mistakes