The single biggest barrier to innovation is the cost of trying, especially the cost of trying and failing.”Failure is not an option” may be a great mantra for moments when life itself depends on success. The rest of the time, failure should be just a process step, usually followed by evaluating and trying again.
This incremental way of work is behind Agile and Scrum development in both IT and the business and is, essentially, cheaper process. These philosophies lower the cost of failure by bringing it sooner, when risk is smaller and course corrections are easiest. But there are very fundamental shifts in technology that really accelerate innovation by making failure easy:
- Cheap infrastructure – What is a company? It used to be an office with desks, telephones and full-time workers. This is a very Industrial Age concept that was a high barrier to starting up a new enterprise. Today it is an individual with an email address, probably using Google Apps, and maybe a website. Marketing can be Twitter and Facebook. It couldn’t get much easier than this and many startups are just this lightweight.
- Cheap data storage – To run anything complicated used to be an enormous investment in servers to manage processing and storage. Provisioning was done based on what may be needed at some point. Cloud computing has allowed even the smallest enterprise or craziest idea to rent-as-you-go what used to be costly. Provisioning can be done on what exactly what is needed at that moment. Amazon sells its cloud storage publicly, and TIBCO’s Silver manages an elastic infrastructure that gives Cloud capabilities and savings within or outside an enterprise.
- Cheap dev platforms – Look no further than the surging market for back end platforms that can be rented to create mobile and web apps. Innovation can focus on the important and differentiating parts of new ideas when no one needs to buy tools to recreate the non-core stuff. The move to Platform-as-a-Service, or PaaS was truly enabled by the arrival of Cloud storage and computing. With Cloud plus PaaS, you longer need to host the development environment. Life just got even easier for the innovator.
- Cheap Functionality – We’re likely to look back at the 90′s and early 00′s as the Monolithic Application Age for business. Large systems like ERP and CRM became the backbone of operations. These big, bloated applications seemed necessary to pull together disparate parts of the business and had their moment as organizations struggled to go end-to-end. The rise of mobile apps, on the other hand, makes functionality much simpler and incremental. Some vestige of the monolithic still has its place, perhaps, but only as a back end to the common tasks people perform through purpose-built apps.
Before you think this is a startup kind of thing, headlines show that traditional vendors are moving quickly in this direction, sometimes by buying and sometimes by building out. It may seem counter intuitive, but the companies that string together these ideas are failure enablers, meaning they actually foster accelerated innovation. Just imagine a world where failure is perfectly fine, even expected.