How failure wires us for innovation

Joseph Waring
07 Mar 2014

Michelle Gallen, CEO of Shhmooze, a networking app for connecting people at conferences, told the audience at the MWC last week that trying and failing are key to innovation.

She insisted that you can’t actually “unleash” innovation – it is part of a process that takes time. “It comes after days, months or years of trying and failing.”

After a devastating brain disease changed her life overnight, she slowly learned that to recover she needed to take risks and explore new territories, which would lead to failures and pain in the short term.

In a moving and brutally honest presentation she shared her battle to recover from viral encephalitis – an acute inflammation of the brain, which she said has an 80% mortality rate. That was almost 16 years ago, soon after landing her dream job in publishing in London after she graduated from the top university in Ireland.

The disease caused her brain to swell and she suffered significant brain damage and had to be spoon fed and learn how to walk and talk and read again. She said once brain cells are damaged, they don’t regenerate.

“My brain had completely failed me.”

Gallen described neuroplasticity as the brain’s amazing ability when it can’t do something anymore to figure out a new way to do it.

“Neuroplasticity is the miracle that let me get my brain back – that helped me get my life back. The really tough thing about neuroplasticity is that for it to work it requires you to try new stuff you can’t do. So just like a little kid, at the age of 23, I tried and failed over and over again.”

She said It was a long process of trying and failing and feeling the pain. In the beginning it was very private – at home or perhaps playing an online game -- but inevitably public failure was a part of her recovery.

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