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Failure or roadblocks.

No one likes to make mistakes. In insurance technology, mistakes cost money; mistakes set you back; mistakes cost people their jobs.

Yet, mistakes sometimes lead to greater success if people avoid the urge to panic and are willing to learn from their failures. Mistakes can be teaching moments that otherwise might never be learned.

I'm not advocating mistakes as a development tool, particularly with multi-million dollar projects on the line. I am advocating a willingness to formulate projects that may or may not prove to be successful, but can advance critical thinking that can make for better managers and better employees.

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I recently read an article that focuses on achieving success and the lessons from these stories is that mistakes don't always equate to failure, no matter what your parents or teachers might tell you.

The article was written by Malcolm Gladwell for The New Yorker and recalls the research done by Xerox at its Palo Alto, Calif., research center in the late 1970s and early 1980s as the company developed, among other things, the laser printer.

It was certainly a different era as companies were willing to invest in research projects, knowing many of them likely would turn out to be useless. But when they came up with a winner, well, history was made.

Gary Starkweather was the genius behind the laser printer and despite his success he often felt frustrated that Xerox corporate leaders rejected many of his ideas and, in the case of the laser printer, actually ordered him to stop work on it.

Gladwell feels that sometimes a responsible party has to "shut off the tap" of ideas, meaning people can continue bouncing ideas off the wall, but nothing will ever come of them if the ideas are allowed to flow without ever being developed into working products.

Gladwell writes: "The more Starkweather talked, the more apparent it became that his entire career had been a version of this problem. Someone was always trying to turn his tap off. But someone had to turn his tap off: the interests of the innovator aren't perfectly aligned with the interests of the corporation"

Innovation in any industry needs to be a never-ending investment, even in difficult times. Finding employees with the imagination and talent to develop new tools--and fostering an environment where such imagination is admired rather than ridiculed--should be an important part of every IT department.

We aren't foolish enough to believe that it is, though. Such actions take courage--both at the development level and at the corporate level--a trait we all need to develop.

Robert Regis Hyle

Editor-in-Chief
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Title Annotation:Hylelites
Author:Hyle, Robert Regis
Publication:Tech Decisions
Date:Oct 1, 2011
Words:434
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