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“…the greatest glory of living lies not in never falling but in rising every time you fall.” – Nelson Mandela [1]


“There, we have done the best we could. If there is any mistake we will make it right. The fear of it shall not deter us from doing our duty. The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.” – Theodore Roosevelt, [2]


In our continuing series on the transformation of our institution into a powerful and competitive partner in Industry 4.0 ecosystems, [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]we now discuss the next lesson learned in the review of this process [4] [8]:




Fourth Lesson: Failures will occur, and they do not necessarily indicate a failure in the strategy. We can learn as much from our failures as our successes, and failures can sometimes identify key areas that must be addressed before the strategy can be successful.




Failure is a much-maligned word and can often be considered the consistent antithesis to success. Bonuses are based on percentages of successful completion of established goals. CONACyT does not take kindly to a final project evaluation presented where the final product obtained was not what was expected when the project was initially proposed. Coming in under-budget is not good fiscal discipline but rather a failure to plan adequately and next year less budget will be allocated. The list could go on and on. However, when speaking in an innovation context, failure is an integral part of success. Dr. Hess has a great quote in Forbes:


“Failure is a necessary part of the innovation process because from failure comes learning, iteration, adaptation, and the building of new conceptual and physical models through an iterative learning process. Almost all innovations are the result of prior learning from failures.” [9]


As he explains, most business managers seek to actively eliminate failure or variances from their processes and results – which is exactly the opposite mindset of an innovative enterprise culture. One way to mitigate the negative effects failures can have on a large enterprise is to run small-scale experiments of new and disruptive ideas where their relative success/failure can be examined. An example of such an experiment at UPAEP could be the Graduate Biomedical Engineering Sciences Program’s new curriculum design. This effort was years in the making, begun before I even arrived at UPAEP, and I had the privilege of collaborating with Dr. Manuel González Pérez in bringing this long-term vision to fruition. When the graduate programs were begun at UPAEP, they were all base on a single template. This was not done with the intention of these programs remaining statically stuck to a single program format, but rather from the necessity born from the lack of funds and personnel to dig deep into individualizing the programs at the beginning. It was expected that the programs once begun and acquiring their own momentum would then begin to specialize and innovate in their curriculum design to serve the needs of their target communities better with each design. 


Biomedical Engineering was the first program to break from the standard design and proposed breaking up the thesis and dissertation credits into more manageable chunks. It took five or more years for other programs to begin to see the value of this process, but eventually other programs started to break from the original mold. Unfortunately, this simply created a new mold where everyone followed a similar “standard” of four 10-credit courses and two optional 5-credit courses. This uniformity was not the originally desired innovation and differentiation. Four years ago, Biomedical Engineering began the next small-scale experiment by beginning a third curriculum design, and break with the standard mold again. It took three years for the plan to pass internal reviews and checks, with the process being halted completely at least twice for being considered too risky of a change. In the end, the internal reviewers were convinced of the value in this new model, and a radical departure from the standard thesis model was successfully presented and approved at both the Department of Education (SEP) and the accrediting body for health professionals (CIFRHS) with very minor comments that were quickly resolved. 


In the first full year of operation under the new program, the Biomedical Engineering Sciences program saw its greatest number of new incoming students in 6 years, rivaling semesters when the PNPC federal scholarship was available to students. While this past success is no guarantee that the market will hold, this small-scale experiment showed that a single program could present a radically different curriculum structure and still be a success. We need to ensure that in establishing our curriculum design strategy we seek to encourage differentiation and innovation across our disciplines. Each school and department need to understand the market they serve and experiment with solutions that will best serve that market. There will be failures along the way, but by not requiring everyone to follow a single model or structure, the impact of a single failed idea will not reverberate across the entire institution.


Dr. Schoemaker from the Mack Institute at Wharton reported the results of a short survey that indicates how well a manager handles failure in a positive manner, where 74% of the managers were at or below the mid-range of the scale. Only 1% of managers ever actively tried new things that were likely to fail just to see if an idea was worth pursuing, and 22% considered themselves managers who celebrate the insights gained from errors. [10] It may be herculean to put ourselves in the “failure is key to our success” mindset, but if we are truly to be a top-tier innovation partner, we must develop a healthy managerial relationship to failure. This relationship to failure can then permeate the institution. Because of the power dynamics involved this is one of those cases where a top-down approach starting at management may be much more effective than a distributed “champions” approach throughout the org chart. 


An excellent article on the leader’s role in this transformation of the perception of failure was written by Josephine Kühl: Failure Culture — the Key Ingredient for Innovation Leadership. [11] She explores concepts such as management education that focuses on case studies are great hands-on tools, but companies are not sharing their failures at a sufficient rate and graduates may have an inflated sense of success rates. The entire article is a great read, but the five lessons the article highlights with regards to leadership in an innovation setting are:


  1. 1. Understand how to lead innovative people
  2. 2. Ask for forgiveness instead of permission
  3. 3. Analyze the failure and its root cause
  4. 4. Act fast
  5. 5. Learn from failure


Failure is not generally fun. Failure is not necessarily enjoyable. Failure is not often cheap. Failure is not ever risk-free. Failure is not often a guaranteed lesson. Failure is not ever completely avoidable in an innovation landscape. We will fail. The questions remain – how will we manage our failures, how will we forge our success in these failure, and how will we learn to understand and grow from studying our failures? I’m not afraid to fail when trying to bring about the greater good in my sphere of influence. I’m afraid to come to the end of my career or life wondering if I could have served those who depend on me better if I’d only been willing to try and risk the failure. What about you?







James Bennet, "Mandela, at White House, Says World Backs Clinton," New York Times, p. A26, Sep. 1998.


Jacob A. Riis, "Theodore Roosevelt," The American Monthly Review of Reviews, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 181-184, Aug. 1900.


Juan Manuel López Oglesby, "Digitalized Innovation Ecosystem: “iideas”," UPAEP Graduate School, Puebla, Science Strategy Position Paper 2018. [Online].


Juan Manuel López Oglesby, "The University as a Strategic Partner in Industry 4.0," UPAEP Graduate School, Puebla, Science Strategy Position Paper 2018. [Online].


Juan Manuel López Oglesby, "Industry 4.0 and the University: Self-Study," UPAEP Graduate School, Puebla, Science Strategy Position Paper 2018. [Online].


Juan Manuel López Oglesby, "Industry 4.0 and the University - Digital Trust," UPAEP Graduate School, Puebla, Science Strategy Position Paper 2018. [Online].


Juan Manuel López Oglesby, "Industry 4.0 – A Call for Champions," UPAEP Graduate School, Puebla, Science Strategy Position Paper 2018. [Online].


PWC, "Global Industry 4.0 Survey," 2016. [Online].


Edward D. Hess, "Creating An Innovation Culture: Accepting Failure is Necessary," Forbes, June 2012. [Online].


Paul Schoemaker, "Why Failure Is the Foundation of Innovation," Inc., Aug. 2012. [Online].


Josephine Kühl, "Failure Culture — the Key Ingredient for Innovation Leadership," Medium: CDTM, Sep. 2017. [Online].


Dr. Juan Manuel López Oglesby, Director, Graduate Biomedical Engineering Sciences UPAEP

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