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Weekly 3: “Intelligent Failures,” Better Product Ideas & Learning from Stupidity

Summary: Failure can be a good teacher. Use "SCAMPER" to have better brainstorming sessions. Study st

Idea Journal Weekly 3

December 3 · Issue #11 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Failure can be a good teacher. Use “SCAMPER” to have better brainstorming sessions. Study stupidity to get smarter. (~5 min read)

#1. Learning from “intelligent failures” can increase your organization’s odds of success.
Being innovative means, by definition, working in an uncertain environment.
Columbia Business School Professor Rita Gunther McGrath writes in the Harvard Business Review that while “failure is inevitable” in such a context, believing in “intelligent failures” can teach you useful lessons. 
She recommends 7 practical principles to help your organization better plan for, manage and learn from failure:
Principle 1: At the very beginning of a project, ensure that everyone agrees on the same definition of success.
Principle 2: Make your assumptions explicit, and design small experiments to test and revise them where possible.
Principle 3: Fail quickly – “quick, decisive failures” have several benefits, from limiting the number of resources that could be lost to shrinking the time needed to establish cause and effect relationships.
Principle 4: Fail cheaply – similar to Principle 3, reduce your downside risk by testing a prototype or adopting 3M’s philosophy of “make a little, sell a little.”
Principle 5: Limit uncertainties “at any particular decision point” whenever possible.
Principle 6: Build a culture that encourages and celebrates intelligent risk-taking, and doesn’t punish people for any resulting failures.
Principle 7: Capture the lessons you learn, and share them with others in your organization.
#2. Use the “SCAMPER” checklist to help structure your brainstorming sessions.
Advertising executive Alex Osborn developed the concept of “brainstorming” in 1942.
Author and educator Bob Eberle has used many of Osborn’s techniques to develop the SCAMPER creativity checklist.
You can use SCAMPER to come up with ideas for improving a product or process in a more structured way: 
  • Substitute: Are there parts, materials or segments that we can swap in?
  • Combine: How can we merge any of the ideas, components or processes?
  • Adapt: Are there any ideas that we can borrow from a competitor or another industry?
  • Modify: Can we minimize, maximize or otherwise change anything?
  • Put to another use: How might we use this product or solution in a totally different way?
  • Eliminate: Is there anything we can get rid of?
  • Rearrange: What would happen if we looked at this from the opposite end, turned it inside out, or reversed our course?
#3. To help their students succeed, teachers should act more like doctors.
Author, educator and media critic Neil Postman writes in his book Conscientious Objections that the reason doctors are so effective in their line of work is that they act as “painkillers.”
Instead of focusing directly on health, a vague concept, doctors “give all their attention to relieving us of sickness.” The very definition of health is the absence of sickness. 
Postman admits that this may seem like wordplay, but argues that adopting this perspective gives doctors the constraints they need to make practical recommendations to their patients, for example: “don’t smoke, don’t consume too much salt or saturated fat, take two aspirin.”
He suggests that teachers would be more successful in educating their students if they took a similar approach. 
Since we don’t have an agreed-on definition of intelligence, teachers should instead become experts in “stupidity,” because we have a much clearer sense of the types of thinking and talking that lead to “unnecessary mischief, failure, misunderstanding, and pain.”
Quote of the Week
“Mistakes are the usual bridge between inexperience and wisdom.”
- Attributed to author and journalist Phyllis Theroux
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