PBS Exec Says You Must Demand Failure From Employees To Drive Innovation

You must take risks in order to attain change and innovation. But taking risks means facing failures, and everyone’s terrified of failure.

When Jason Seiken joined PBS in 2006, he knew this way of thinking needed to change.

“Business school literature has long stressed the importance of taking risks and encouraging rapid failure,” Seiken, senior vice president and general manager of digital at PBS, writes in the Harvard Business Review. “At PBS Digital, we went beyond corporate lip service and demanded failure from each and every employee.”

In 2007, PBS faced a period of “desperation,” as the site’s “audience growth had stalled and the product pipeline was dry,” he says. So Seiken decided to change the company’s “deeply engrained culture of caution” by adding failure as a new metric to employees’ performance goals.

He told employees: “If you don’t fail enough during the coming years, you’ll be downgraded,” he writes.

“The idea was deliver a clear message: Move fast. Iterate fast. Be entrepreneurial,” says Seiken. “Don’t be afraid that if you stretch and sprint, you might break things. Executive leadership has your back.”

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