We all know that for innovation to flourish, risk taking and its twin cousin, failure (aka learning) need to be encouraged.

In ideal cultures, innovation should be an essential part of the creative process. Failing needs to be reframed as an inevitable part of the learning journey. Test, learn and test again.

Organisational Experimentation

Really powerful new business cultures such as Netflix have made their ability to innovate a key part of their recruitment platform, for very good reason. They have a muscular approach to experimentation which makes the cultural attributes behavioural, tangible and fun. In summary, Netflix:

  • Encourage independent decision-making by employees

  • Share information openly, broadly and deliberately

  • Are extraordinarily candid with each other

  • Avoid rules

Too many cultures are however, still mired in an old mindset rooted in traditional hierarchical, risk averse ways of working where people look for someone to blame if things go ‘wrong’. Mistakes are another word for failure, and failure is a no no.

Experimentation Workshops

In We-Q team workshops, people often score low on ‘We enjoy experimenting’. Team members frequently talk about the significant gap between the management rhetoric and the reality on the ground. On the one hand, leaders exalt innovation, making mistakes and the importance of failure. On the other, when things don’t go to plan blame is apportioned quickly, even if it  whispered.

Failure is too often perceived as damaging to one’s personal or collective reputation and credibility. Why take risks when those who avoid it are better rewarded?

What a world away from Netflix who have nailed the following expected behaviors:


You contribute effectively outside of your specialty
You make connections that others miss
You seek alternate perspectives


You say what you think, when it’s in the best interest of Netflix, even if it is uncomfortable
You are willing to be critical of the status quo
You make tough decisions without agonizing
You take smart risks and are open to possible failure
You are able to be vulnerable, in search of truth


You are tenacious and optimistic
You are quietly confident and openly humble


You are open-minded in search of the best ideas
You share information openly and proactively


You create new ideas that prove useful
You re-conceptualize issues to discover solutions to hard problems
You challenge prevailing assumptions, and suggest better approaches
You keep us nimble by minimizing complexity and finding time to simplify
You thrive on change
(To learn more go to: https://jobs.netflix.com/culture)

Embracing Experimentation

So how can you shift from the old to the new?

In my experience one vital component is for each team to talk about the tensions that exist currently, and to imagine the more liberated culture they would wish to have. It is all very well to receive the ‘be innovative, make mistakes’ blessing from way up on high. It is quite another to address the shadow side of things and find a new way of working and of being rewarded.

Each team needs to wrestle with that personally and collectively. Once a manifesto of sorts has been hammered out then the tension between the words and the actions diminishes. Once the issues are named and placed in the open, people feel bolder and more courageous to show their personal doubts and vulnerability. How are things currently done? What could be a better alternative? Who has an appetite to initiate and lead for change?

Teams need time to reflect and ask themselves what would turn experimentation and innovation from a painful process to one which is exciting, creative, enjoyable and brings forth the best in people.

How do your teams stack up against Netflix?