I spent some time this past weekend working through some problems I was having on my home computer with Mozilla Firefox. After doing a little research, I found the way through the problem by using the safe mode Mozilla provided. What a brilliant option!
We’ve talked often about the need to tolerate failure in order to maximize the opportunities for innovation. However, for many risk averse businesses, this prospect is too scary to contemplate much less implement. Dave Snowden draws the useful distinction between the fail-safe approach versus the safe-fail approach. The former is the favorite of anxious risk managers who don’t want anything to go wrong — ever. The latter is favored by managers who understand that innovation usually is the result of trial and error.
If we’re serious about innovation, we should consider developing some safe modes of operating in which temporary changes can be tried without great risk. If we, like Mozilla, can find a way to reduce the downside of failure, then we open the door to innovation. Of course, sometimes the really great breakthroughs come about only when we take large gambles. However, until we’re ready to really roll the dice, testing incremental improvements in safe mode may be a happy compromise. After all, innovation that results in improvements — no matter how small — moves your knowledge management program and your organization forward. The alternative is safe stagnation.