Failure or success: Which better inspires innovation?

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It’s Friday, and that means it’s time, yet again, for you to cast your vote for the Innovator of the Week. If you are unfamiliar with the series, you can read through the archives and cast your vote in past matchups.

This week, in light of the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, we decided to take a more conceptual approach to the matchup, pitting failure against success as a driver of innovation.

Both failure and success have been cited as drivers of innovation. Here we present both for you to determine which is the greater innovation driver.

Success: It drives people to want to repeat the experience and achieve again. Not all success results in the next groundbreaking idea, but it goes a long way toward inspiring the confidence to take subsequent risks — and, in some cases, provides us with additional resources to embark on new, more demanding challenges.

Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin revolutionized medicine, as did the successful completion of the human genome project. Both achievements allowed for a number of subsequent discoveries. From the wheel to the pulley system, success has moved innovation forward. Imagine what the animation film industry would look like without the advent of Pixar, or what computing would be without the successful creation of Linux. What would our social networks look like today without the creation of MySpace or Friendster?

Failure: It can be painful and, at times, disastrous, but failure is often cited as one of the leading catalysts for innovation. “Failure’s capacity to teach is exactly why venture capitalists often look for managers to run start-ups whose résumés include experience with a flop,” reported Post On Leadership blogger Jena McGregor in a 2006 cover story for Bloomberg Businessweek.

“The wise recognize failure is an unavoidable part of innovation — and the faster and more aggressively a company, or industry, pursues big changes, the greater the risks they take on, in exchange for greater access to the possible rewards,” writes author and lecturer Scott Berkun.

But failure, like success, is relative. High school students who fail to be admitted to the college of their choice see failure far differently from repeat entrepreneurs who fail on their second venture after selling their first for more money than they plan to spend in a lifetime.

And finally, one individual or organization’s success can precipitate another’s failure — for example, Coca-Cola’s success coming at the cost of its competitors. But which is better at inspiring innovation is a decision we leave to you.

Read more news and ideas on Innovations:

PHOTOS | Steve Jobs and the patents that changed our lives

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