If your innovation fails: it’s not game over. You’ve just been slam-dunked by an age-old phenomenon. In 1786, Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote, “The best-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.”  It struck as much of a chord then as it does today because it’s a universal truth. Start-up founders and innovators across Australia are living this reality every day. If you’re one of them and your R&D program or innovation plans for FY22 haven’t exactly lived up to your expectations, don’t despair. We’ve pulled together some great insights from successful inventors and entrepreneurs who’ve had their fair share of innovation failures.
1. Flip the flop
When your R&D doesn’t go to plan, start by taking a big step back and a few deep breaths. Sure, you’re disappointed. But is your R&D really the failure you think it is? The history of innovation is littered with inventors whose creations didn’t solve the problems they were intended for but offered much-need solutions for equally important issues instead.
Dr Spencer Silver, a scientist at the US multinational conglomerate 3M, was tasked with creating an ultra-strong adhesive for aircraft construction. But Dr Silver’s R&D didn’t work out. Indeed, he ended up with the entirely opposite result. He discovered a weak adhesive that could easily stick and unstick again and again. Convinced there was an application for his invention, he presented his results to different departments and colleagues throughout 3M, but to no avail. Finally, one of his colleagues, Arthur Fry, realised Dr Silver’s invention would make an excellent bookmark, and the Post-it was born. 
The discovery of super glue was another sticky solution. During the second world war, Dr Harry Coover was working on a project to create a strong, transparent plastic for the gun sights of US weapons. During the R&D process, Dr Coover discovered a brand new compound called cyanoacrylate. But the mixture was incredibly sticky, so he discarded it because it was unsuitable. A decade later one of Dr Coover’s research students, Fred Joyner, rediscovered the compound. This time, Dr Coover saw the potential of the innovation, and in 1958 Superglue was launched as a new product by the global technology company, Kodak. The invention quickly went on to become a household favourite worldwide.
Key takeaway #1
If your R&D has produced some unexpected results, consider if these are novel in any way. And if they are, do they offer a solution to another problem that wasn’t on your radar?
2. See the wood from the trees
Some innovations and discoveries happen thanks to sheer luck. But even when that’s the case, you still need to have the presence of mind to spot that you’re onto a good thing. When you’re in the innovation game, it pays dividends to maintain an above-average amount of curiosity and be alert to the possible applications for any unexpected or novel results your endeavours generate.
Back in 1938, Ruth Graves Wakefield started making some chocolate cookies for the guests at her Inn when she realised she was out of baking chocolate. So, she improvised by chopping up a Nestle semi-sweet chocolate bar, hoping it would melt throughout the dough and make chocolate cookies. But the small chunks of chocolate remained intact — scattered throughout the baked biscuit — and the chocolate chip cookie made its debut. The following year, Nestle started offering its semi-sweet chocolate in the chocolate chip format to meet popular demand. 
Scottish physician and microbiologist Alexander Fleming was researching the influenza virus when he accidentally discovered penicillin; and that it could treat certain types of bacterial infections. Known for being careless around the lab, Dr Fleming went on holiday for two weeks and forgot to throw away a staphylococcus culture plate before he left. When he returned, he discovered the culture plate had become accidentally contaminated with mould. On closer examination, he realised the mould on the culture plate had prevented the staphylococci bacteria from growing. His eureka moment paved the way for the world’s first antibiotic, penicillin, which has saved an estimated 200,000 million lives since its introduction in 1942. 
Dr Fleming reputedly said, “One sometimes finds what one is not looking for. When I woke up just after dawn on 28 September 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionise all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I guess, that was exactly what I did.” 
Key takeaway #2
Remember, it’s not always obvious when you’ve created a successful innovation. So, it’s important to keep an open mind when examining any R&D results and the wider environment where you operate. Being alert to possibilities is a crucial component of the entrepreneurial mindset. If Dr Fleming or Ruth Graves Wakefield had thrown away what they discovered in their laboratory and oven, respectively, the worlds of healthcare and sweet treats would be far worse off today.
3. Reframe failure and success
If you haven’t accidentally invented something, or you don’t have a ground-breaking discovery hiding in plain sight at your workplace, what’s next? Most of us tend to see success and failure as opposites. And when it comes to assessing any outcome (including your innovation and R&D results for the FY) this can lead to black and white thinking. Innovation isn’t a linear process. Sometimes you have to go backwards before you can go forwards.
It could be that your definition of R&D and innovation success is too narrow for the stage your business has reached. In short, your program and timelines might be overly ambitious compared to the resources you currently have. If recalibrating your expectations still leaves your R&D and innovation wanting, then focus on what you can learn from the experience. That way, you can avoid the pitfall of ruminating about your shortfalls which could sabotage your future goals.
Why innovation fails
According to innovation expert Phil McKinney some of the most common reasons for innovation failing are:
- Not clearly identifying the problem the innovation solves
- Not having a good enough idea
- Executing your innovation poorly
- Lack of a roadmap to ensure your product launches into the market
- Poor timing (e.g. changes in consumer needs, technology or political changes)
- Lack of customer demand (often due to lack of marketing)
- Lack of funding and supporting resources
Key takeaway #3
Consider how you define success and failure. If your innovation or R&D plans have been an abject or partial failure, it’s worth considering whether the most common or other causes of innovation failure were a factor.  Then take steps to explore what you can learn from this.
4. Get back on the horse
When things haven’t gone to plan, it’s natural to feel some trepidation about trying again. But it’s important to make sure fear and anxiety don’t become paralysing or that you start avoiding your goals rather than advancing toward them.
Advance, don’t avoid
According to psychologists, an approach goal is when you want to create a positive outcome and an avoidance goal is when you seek to avoid an adverse result. If we fear a task could be difficult or unpleasant, we can subconsciously centre on what we don’t want to happen instead of what we really want to achieve. So it’s important to be aware and take steps to combat this phenomenon.
Fight the fear
Early-stage tech investor, best-selling author and podcaster Tim Ferriss recommends drawing up a ‘fear list’. A ‘fear list’ is a roll call of what you’re afraid to do, and what you fear could happen if you attempt these seemingly terrifying tasks. It also covers the flip side, in other words, what the risks of inaction could be. The list should feature your worst-case scenarios; what you can do to prevent the worst from happening in the first place; and most importantly how you can mitigate the likelihood of it happening and repair the feared disaster if it occurs. Tim credits writing ‘fear lists’ every quarter with empowering him to take on his toughest challenges and create his greatest successes.
Key takeaway #4
If you’ve experienced a setback, focus on what you can learn from your experience, rather than beating yourself up about what you did wrong. This will help you reset and refocus on achieving your R&D and innovation goals.
5. Fund your future
Lack of funding and support is one of the most common culprits behind innovation failures. When innovation doesn’t go to plan, cash flow difficulties for R&D can become a vicious circle. Traditional debt financiers, including banks, are cautious about lending to innovation-focused businesses at the best of times. If your R&D program has fizzled, they can become even more reluctant. But if you have R&D that’s eligible for the R&D Tax Incentive refund, cash flow can be one of the easiest problems to fix, because you can apply for a Radium Advance. And at Radium Capital, we see security differently, so we can help more businesses grow and thrive.
A Radium Advance is a short term loan that lets you access your expected R&D refund within a few business days. So you can stabilise your cash flow and get the capital you need to maintain your innovation’s momentum. We know riding the front of the innovation wave takes vision and resolve. And that being out in front can be an isolating experience. If that’s the case for you, we can connect you with our network of innovation experts who can support you with moving your R&D and innovation forward.
Key takeaway #5
If you have eligible expenditure, contact the Radium Capital team for a cash flow injection to help you get back on the horse. Once you’re back in the saddle, you can think about using Radium Advances more strategically for your R&D. By locking in regular Radium Advances every quarter or more, you can scale the non-dilutionary R&D funding we offer to scale your R&D and make your future innovation plans a reality sooner.
 Poetry Foundation. 2022. To a Mouse by Robert Burns | Poetry Foundation. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43816/to-a-mouse-56d222ab36e33. [Accessed 03 June 2022].
 https://www.post-it.com/3M/en_US/post-it/. 2022. History Timeline: Post-it® Notes. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.post-it.com/3M/en_US/post-it/contact-us/about-us/. [Accessed 3 June 2022].
 Alexander Fleming – New World Encyclopedia. 2022. Alexander Fleming – New World Encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Alexander_Fleming. [Accessed 06 June 2022].
 Penicillin: An accidental discovery changed the course of medicine. 2008. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.healio.com/news/endocrinology/20120325/penicillin-an-accidental-discovery-changed-the-course-of-medicine. Accessed 3 June 2022].
 https://killerinnovations.com/. 2022. Why Innovation Fails – top 10 causes. [ONLINE] Available at: https://killerinnovations.com/why-innovations-fail-the-top-10-causes/. [Accessed 3 June 2022].