"Genius is in-born, may it never be still-born."

"Oysters, irritated by grains of sand, give birth to pearls. Brains, irritated by curiosity, give birth to ideas."

"Brainpower is the bridge to the future; it is what transports you from wishful thinking to willful doing."

"Unless you keep learning & growing, the status quo has no status."
Showing posts with label Intelligent Fast Failure. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Intelligent Fast Failure. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Today, I have picked up a new phrase, while surfing the net for 'killer innovations'.

It's 'Creative Failure Methodology'. In a nut shell, it involves the concept of "embracing failure" with the "trials & errors" or "hard knocks" approach.

One author wrote about "creative accidents". Another, about "planned serendipity".

The surfing led me to a belated blogpost by creativity expert Michael Michalko on the Amazon website.

He related that the term was first described by physicist William Shockey, who was credited for the invention of the transistor in the mid-40's, which introduced the world to the Electronic Age. [As a result, he won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1956 with two of his colleagues.]

This is what William Shockley and a multi-disciplinary Bell Labs team did. They were formed to invent the MOS transistor and ended up instead with the junction transistor and the new science of semiconductor physics.

These developments eventually led to the MOS transistor and then to the integrated circuit and to new breakthroughs in electronics and computers.

William Shockley described it as a process of “creative failure methodology.” In fact, he commented further:

"A basic truth that the history of the creation of the transistor reveals is that the foundations of transistor electronics were created by making errors & following hunches that failed to give what was expected."

John Wesley Hyatt, an Albany printer and mechanic, worked long and hard trying to find a substitute for billiard-ball ivory, then coming into short supply. He invented, instead, celluloid— the first commercially successful plastic.

Roy Plunkett set out to invent a new refrigerant. Instead, he created a glob of white waxy material that conducted heat and did not stick to surfaces.

Fascinated by this “unexpected” material, he abandoned his original line of research and experimented with this interesting material, which eventually became known by its household name, “Teflon.”

The author gave an interesting corollary:

"In principle, the unexpected event that gives rise to a creative invention is not all that different from the unexpected automobile breakdown that forces us to spend a night in a new and interesting town, the book sent to us in error that excites our imagination, or the closed restaurant that forces us to explore a different cuisine. But when looking for ideas or creative solutions, many of us ignore the unexpected and, consequently, loose the opportunity to turn chance into a creative opportunity."

I recall that corporate strategist Tom Peters once called it "unplanned interruptions" as a prelude to entrepreneurial discoveries.

So, well-known behavioural scientist B.F. Skinner was right when he advised people that "whenever you are working on something and find something interesting, drop everything else and study it".

Come to think about it, I reckon, "Creative Failure Methodology" is, in some ways, analogous to the 'Intelligent Fast Failure' methodology put forward by innovation educator Jack Matson. I have written about it in this weblog.

Friday, July 10, 2009


While browsing the Amazon online catalog this morning, I have stumbled upon Jim Collin's new book, 'How The Mighty Fail: And Why Some Companies Never Give In'.

I haven't yet acquired the book to read, but I am certainly intrigued by several questions posed by the author:

- How do the mighty fall?

- Can decline be detected early and avoided?

- How far can a company fall before the path toward doom becomes inevitable and unshakable?

- How can companies reverse course?

From the product description, I have came to this passage:

"Decline can be avoided. Decline can be detected. Decline can be reversed. . . Decline, it turns out, is largely self-inflicted, and the path to recovery lies largely within our own hands. We are not imprisoned by our circumstances, our history, or even our staggering defeats along the way. As long as we never get entirely knocked out of the game, hope always remains. The mighty can fall, but they can often rise again."

"Decline. . . is largely self-inflicted. . ."

I like that, as it implies choice. It is analoguous to 'Misery is also an Option'.

Nonetheless, it is obvious that the same situation also applies in the personal perspective.

I reckon it would be interesting to read the book in terms of finding out how we can enhance our anticipatory prowess, & develop some sort of a personal early warning system to failure.

Looks like this would be something interesting too for award-winning innovator Jack Matson to think about, & to add another perspective on to his own Intelligent Fast Failure philosophy. Jack, are you reading this?

The book is now in my shopping cart with Amazon.

Upon reading it, I will then share with readers the author's exposition of the five step-wise stages of decline, & how we can substantially reduce our chances of failing all the way to the bottom. Please stay tuned!

Friday, March 27, 2009


In an earlier post, I have reviewed award-winning innovator Jack Matson's 'Innovate or Die: A Personal Perspective on the Art of Innovation', in which the author has shared many interesting perspectives about 'Intelligent Fast Failure'.

Somehow, I am not too sure whether I have been triggered to post the review by a very pertinent & yet very insightful article I have read in the Wednesday issue of the 'Straits Times', under the 'Think-Tank' byline.

The article is entitled: 'Can Singapore Fail?', & has been written by Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore's former diplomat to the United Nations, & now Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the NUS.

Let me recap the prologue of his article:

"I have just finished writing an article for the Wilson Quarterly, an American journal, on the topic, Can America Fail? The opening paragraph reads as follows:

"In 1981, Singapore's long-ruling people's Action Party was shocked when it suffered its first defeat at the polls in many years, even though the context was in a single constituency. I asked Dr Goh Keng Swee, one of Singapore's three great founding fathers and the architect of Singapore's economic miracle, why the PAP lost.

He replied, 'Kishore, we failed because we did not even conceive of the possibility of failure'."

Wow! What a penetrating insight from Dr Goh!

Although Dr Goh has meant the conceptualising of failure from the national leadership point of view, I am certainly intrigued by its implications from a personal standpoint.

In life, I reckon, for most of us as we chart out what to do in the longer term, we always look at the forward journey in terms of success.

The 'image of achievement', as Dr Karl Pribram of Stanford University has so eloquently postulated as part of his 'Holographic Brain Model' rings very true here.

Frankly, I don't think anyone really look at the road ahead from the perspective of the possibility of failure.

There may exist the fear of failure, at least in the heart, but nobody ever sit down to conceptualise for such a contingency in the head.

Hence, the question I am now posing to myself: Can I fail? That's something really worth pondering.

[Kishore Mahbubani is also the author of 'Can Asians Think? Understanding the Divide Between East & West' (2001), & 'The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East' (2009). I have read the first book. It sets out a wake-up call to all the westerners as well as Asians.]


I have read the book 'Innovate or Die : A Personal Perspective on the Art of Innovation' by Jack Matson, an award-winning innovator, during the nineties.

In reality, this book is an enhanced version of the author's two earlier books, respectively entitled 'The Art of Innovation: Using Intelligent Fast Failure' & ‘How to Fail Successfully: A Bold Approach to Meeting Your Goals Through Intelligent Fast Failure’.

The latter two books were originally published in 1991, with the earlier one by The Penn State University (The Leonard Center for Innovation & Enhancement of Engineering Education).

The books' core philosophy was based on the author's personal experiences in exploring creativity & innovation with engineering design students in his 'Failure 101' or ‘Intelligent Fast Failure’ courses at the university (first at the University of Houston, later at Penn State).

He had taught engineering students to unlearn years of practising risk aversion, stressing the connection between creativity & risk. He had encouraged them to realise that failure was essential in developing design skills & judgement.

In a nut shell, as I had understood it, ‘Intelligent Fast Failure’ was basically a fast learning process, using failure (results) as a springboard.

Instead of experimenting with only one project idea, students could have several project ideas to work on at the same time. If one would fail, they could modify or adjust it or quickly pick the next one to work on. This experimentation would accelerate the learning process, which would encourage the students to get through the failure results more quickly, before low confidence or low self esteem could set in.

As a result, the students could reach the knowledge acquisition curve more quickly, where they would be able to find out what would work & what would not work.

His principal premise in the book was this:

"No issue is more important to the engineer, or entrepreneur, than intelligent failure."

I had read the author’s books enthusiastically, especially during the early 90's, when I felt, as a mechanical engineer by training, I could relate readily to the author's teaching philosophy.

At that time, I also felt that the author's unique concept of experimenting with creativity, particularly in the field of engineering design, would empower me to go forward & experiment simultaneously with other aspects of my own chosen life pursuits - research, consultancy, training & development, coaching, networking, globe-trotting & personal hobbies.

I eventually moved on, with further inspirations from other authors/books, to establish a strategy consultancy business, run a newsletter as well as operate a small retail outlet in early 1992.

To this day, I still think that this is an excellent book about creativity & innovation in action.

I strongly recommend reading this book if you are serious about wanting to learn how to manage failure & to develop an appetite for risk in your life &/or your work.

The book, generally written in a light-hearted manner, is packed with true-to-life examples, personal cases, & experiences of innovators excelling in the art of innovation on an organisational, civic or personal level.