Exploiting Chaos -- and Celebrating Failure

In the run-up to President Obama's speech to school children, NPR's

In the run-up to President Obama’s speech to school children, NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” hosted a conversation with two high school principals. Both were clearly smart, empathetic, and hardworking. But my shoulders froze when I heard one of them say, “we don’t accept failure.”

Where would we be if Thomas Edison, who failed one thousand times before he invented the lightbulb, had been told that failure is unacceptable?

The reality is that that principal isn't alone in his thinking. Our educational system, our culture more broadly, and yes -- most corporations -- demonize failure. Yet the individuals and companies that have learned to expect failure and to learn from it, are often incredibly successful.

The Edison example and its lesson on the value of failure is but one from the new book by innovation expert and trend guru Jeremy Gutsche called Exploiting Chaos. (Here, see a slide show of 24 ideas from the book.)

"In times of chaos," Gutsche writes, "the deck gets reshuffled and the rules of the game are changed. To thrive, companies must learn not to create structure and stability, but rather, to adapt quickly." Gutsche offers readers four tactics to improve their ability to adapt quickly: develop a culture of revolution, identify opportunities by trend hunting, use proven innovation practices such as ideation and prototyping, and create viral marketing.

The book is a quick read, with lots of graphics, oversized headlines on each page, and memorable quotes from the likes of Peter Drucker, Warren Buffet, and Steve Jobs. It is designed so that one could just flip through the pages reading the headlines, though the most interesting material requires a a full reading.

Perhaps the most original material comes in the section on trend hunting, which isn't surprising given that Gutsche is the founder of TrendHunter.com, a network/guide to the hip and new that boasts 10 million monthly views. Gutsche teaches readers how to find new trends and walks them through a business challenge -- design a hip hotel -- to show, specifically, how trends can be used to develop and hone a unique new offering.

Though as I realized when I heard the high school principal talk about not accepting failure, even the book's less original lessons -- such as "Make failure a part of every day" -- are worth being reminded of.

You might like: