DAVID L. PETERSON

Another Innovation Fail—Learn From My Mistakes

Nine bladed silver industrial fan against a wood ceiling.

The blades on my outdoor fan broke recently. As you can imagine, the fan became unstable, which made for a very bad experience. When this happened, it was July in South Georgia, so having a working fan is imperative.

Once I secured the replacement fan blades, I set about working on installing the new blades on the fan. The replacement blades came with pre-drilled holes. However, with the exception of one hole at the far end of the blade, the other two holes did not align with the pre-drilled ones. Since there were no instructions on how to properly indicate where the holes needed to be drilled, I reveled in the opportunity to come up with an innovative way to solve this problem.

For my first attempt, I tried to use a Sharpie marker to make black marks on the blade where the holes would need to go. However, several attempts to achieve this all failed. No worries, failure is essential to true innovation, right? Somehow, I had to precisely mark where the holes needed to go; otherwise, the fan would be wobbly. I had an “Ah ha!” moment, and I went in search of some masking tape. Once I found the tape, I made two small balls of tape with the sticky side out. I put these on the two holes of the existing fan bracket and carefully pressed the new fan blade against the bracket. After pulling the fan blade away, the two balls of tape were stuck to the blade, exactly as I had hoped. This allowed me to make marks on the blade where the tape was. From there, I drilled holes in the blade and then installed the blade on the bracket.

Two white fan blades lying side by side with 3 holes drilled into each one.

I must admit, I was feeling really proud of my creativity and how I converted it into innovative thinking to complete this project. My holes were not perfectly aligned, and I needed to make a few adjustments for each blade-bracket combination, but the job was getting done. As I finished drilling the last of the five blades, I happened to look to my left at another blade that was still lying on the counter. It was the old blade that I had taken off at the beginning of the project. And of course, it had three PERFECTLY drilled holes where the fan blade attached to the bracket.

1 wood fan blade with an old paint pattern on it is on top of two white fan blades. All three blades have three holes drilled in them.

So I could have just used this as the template and saved myself a lot of hassle. This is a classic example of the Einstellung Effect, which is to overlook a simpler way to solve a problem. As you may have read in my previous blog posts, when you have the time, make sure to consider all possibilities before choosing a potential solution and acting on it. All I had to do was look around before I started drilling, and I would have discovered the perfect template sitting right in front of me.

I want to encourage innovation, but at the same time, I need to call myself out when I discover I am not following my own advice. My hope is that by highlighting my innovation failures, it will encourage you to keep thinking, keep focusing on creativity, and keep converting that creativity into meaningful innovations. And DO NOT BE DISMAYED BY FAILURE! Learn from it and press on!

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