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What Bill Gates and J.K. Rowling Have in Common

November 28, 2015, 6:00 PM UTC
Photographs by Getty Images

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: What’s the best way to keep your company successful? is written by Tal Schwartz, CEO of ClickTale.

If there is one lesson my employees know that I love to drive home, it’s this: if you want to succeed, you first need to fail. Advising employees to fail before they succeed may sound counterintuitive, but I assure you it is anything but. If you want to run a good company, go ahead and tell those on your team to strive to do their best work. But if you want to run a great company, I dare you to push your staff even further. I dare you to allow them to break through their own boundaries and the only way to do that is to encourage them to fail.

That’s because failure is what you encounter on the road to a truly original idea. It’s what history has proven, time and again, is the first step to creativity. Bill Gates knows it. Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton knew it. Van Gogh, Dickinson — even J.K. Rowling — knew that failure is essential to turn good ideas into truly fantastic ones.

So I don’t just encourage my employees to fail, I require that they do. Every employee at ClickTale knows in brainstorming sessions, company meetings, and strategy pow-wows, they can offer any idea that pops into their head. They can bring forth crazy, far-fetched scenarios for revolutionizing customer experience, and they know that if they are given the green light to put their plans into action, there will be no penalty if they end up falling on their face. That’s because I have faith in the ratio of 1:4. For every four wins, an employee who is truly pushing him or herself to think creatively will fail at least once. Otherwise, if they’re hitting so-called homeruns every time, then it’s imperative as a leader to take a closer look at their performance.

So how do you create an environment where your employees feel comfortable failing? Quite honestly, you can set the stage any way you like. At ClickTale, we prefer good, old-fashioned praise. Highlight a staffer’s failed venture at a company-wide meeting, focusing on the courage, creative thinking, and gumption that was required for them to offer the idea and attempt to see it through. Or you can go a more elementary route, and provide financial bonuses, sweet treats, or whatever sort of positive reinforcement that jives well with your company and its unique culture. The reward itself is unimportant. What matters is that you create the right environment to really get your staff pushing themselves further.

In today’s ever-crowded marketplace, true innovation is scarce. Employees, eager to please and worried about holding on their jobs, need the right kind of encouragement from their higher-ups to feel safe thinking out of the box. So if you want to really succeed, create that safety net yourself. Encourage failure and reward it. Because only when you make it safe to fail will you pull away from the pack and start to truly succeed.

Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question:What’s the best way to keep your company successful?

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The One Word Managers Need to Say More Often by Kevin Chou, cofounder and CEO of Kabam.

The biggest mistake a successful company can make by Rich Lesser, CEO of the Boston Consulting Group.