You can't spell innovation without failure

Blog Post created by timothyharfield on Feb 15, 2018

When I was a Fellow with the University Innovation Alliance, I learned that admitting and acknowledging failure is incredibly important if higher education is going to be responsive to the changing needs of students in the 21st century. Admitting failure is hard to do, but humility is an essential part of experimentation, imagination, and innovation.

Just as acknowledging failure is essential if institutions are going to overcome their own hype, work collaboratively, and make significant progress in support of national and international student success efforts, so too is it important on the part of vendors.


Innovation and risk-aversion do NOT go hand in hand. In order to meet the needs of higher education in the 21st century, vendors need to be willing to take risks. With risk, comes the possibility of failure, but also the potential for real progress.


Investing in research and development in areas that might turn out to be dead ends demonstrates a strong desire to innovate, but it also means promoting innovation on the part of the industry as a whole. If certain research trajectories turn out to me misguided or dead ends, its is important for other researchers and vendors to know about it so that they they can invest in more fruitful areas rather than unnecessarily wasting effort in areas that others have already found to be unproductive.


Hype is bad for students. It is bad for higher education, and it is ultimately bad for the vendors that serve it. The remedy for hype is humility.


In this recent blog post by Alan Greenberg for Wainhouse Research, he describes some recent 'failures' that were mentioned by Phill Miller on main stage during the 2018 Blackboard Analytics Symposium.


>> When failure makes you better


A major theme at Blackboard is that we are a 'Partner in Change.' Partnership is relationship, and relationship is not possible in the absence mutual vulnerability. To my mind, a willingness to talk about failure as much as about success speaks to its credibility, as a company that is committed to partnership in a way that goes far deeper than a marketing slogan.