The Role of Failure in Science Innovation

Andrey Badalyan November 20th 2020

There is no success without failure - this notion is increasingly becoming the staple ethos among leaders and entrepreneurs, encouraging learning through failure in business. With the vast majority of blue chip pharmaceutical and biotech companies shaping their long-term strategy around innovation, scientific innovation goes hand in hand with the success of a business. Should companies focus on avoiding failures or devise strategies to celebrate them? Is staying innovative the only way to remain relevant in the modern competitive climate? In this article we will assess the role of failures as a driving force of science innovation and will help you generate ideas on how to leverage failure as a tool for learning.

How do you determine scientific innovation?

In a corporate context, innovation has become somewhat of a buzzword. Being utilised by the vast majority of biopharma companies when describing their long term strategy, the real meaning of this action is becoming more generic. Through exploring many innovation-focussed companies of various scientific fields, we have compiled the most frequent definitions of innovation utilised in the biopharma world:

  • Application of new ideas to stay relevant
  • Feasible offering perceived as new and adopted by customers
  • Any product , service or method of approach that is new and useful

It is evident that the key to scientific innovation is novelty which is used to stay ahead of the competition by either offering the customers new or enhanced medication options or increasing inner-business productivity. Regardless of its application, innovation is a key driver for a science-focused business and, being a rather abstract action, requires a high level of creativity and freedom.

Is celebrating failure good for a research-focused organisation?

Innovation is a highly unstructured and an extremely disordered process driven by various factors inside and outside of the company’s control. With a large portion of your innovation strategy being driven by uncontrollable events, the probability of failure becomes high. If biopharma companies want to succeed as innovators, they have to accept the likelihood of failure and adjust for it. Attempting the new creation is often the only way to learn from failure and improve.

Even the most innovative companies like Amazon and Google have a long history of failure before finding their success story. These companies pride themselves on their past mistakes. However, wearing your failures as a badge of honour, is only good when you have turned them into success. From an entrepreneur’s point of view, building resilience through failures is central for staying creative.

Does punishing failure discourage biopharmaceutical innovation?

Being a results-driven company in the realm of biomedical research can turn out to be a slippery slope. Rewarding only success eliminates any chance of scientific creativity or attempts of doing things the unconventional way. Punishing failure demotivates everyone from taking risks and stops the company from growing its innovation potential.

Evaluating how your company celebrates or punishes failure could make a large difference to your business strategy. Rewarding risks and outside-of-the-box thinking will elevate your employees’ tendency to innovate when solving the problem. Failure is a natural process and companies need to learn how to leverage it to grow their business. Often, embracing your failures is a great opportunity to not only devise a new problem-solving strategy but also to get to the root of the problem. This route is always where creative minds thrive and come up with the most innovative solutions.

We have compiled a short guide to evaluating your company’s approach to failure by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Is long term learning more important for your company than short-term results?
  • Do you give your employees any recognition for their mistakes or welcome their mistakes as a learning tool or a tool to improve?
  • Do you support the culture of hiding the mistake rather than embracing the mistake and turning it into an opportunity to improve?

Answering these questions can help scientific leaders to understand their position towards failure within their teams and reflect on how they deal with it. With that said, welcoming mistakes in certain situations can certainly hurt a company so the evaluation of your approach must be made within the context of individual scenarios.

How can Labstep help your innovation strategy?

In the context of failure, being well aware of every step of the research and development process is critical. Tracking your progress is crucial, as often only in hindsight failures become apparent. Having a reliable tool that can always direct you towards an area of improvement can become your lifebuoy when it comes to a time to assess your mistakes and learn from them. Being a multidisciplinary tool, Labstep can help accelerate your improvement in any areas of your research. With integrated collaborative tools, Labstep is different from competitors on the ELN market when it comes to accessibility, effectiveness and opportunities for teamwork. Unifying teams within a connected research environment, companies can keep track of all their processes and data in one place, keeping both high-level overview and being able to zoom in on the pinch points.


Labstep is a provider of scientific data management software for R&D organisations across industries (Biotech, Pharma, Biology, Chemicals, Agriculture etc) who need to manage, capture, share and use data effectively.

The Labstep platform is an end to end flexible research environment that connects your notebook, inventory, applications and data in one collaborative workspace.

To learn more about Labstep’s lab inventory management module, get in touch. Contact us or book a demo today.