Tony Chocolonely is famous primarily for its mission to make chocolate 100% slave free. Its clients pay a premium to support the idea of fair trade. Its success shows that ethics, innovation and commercial success can go hand in hand.
In an earlier article I wrote about how companies can make a pro-active effort to fight modern slavery in their supply chains. This time I want to focus on another aspect of Tony Chocolonely.
Culture of Innovation
The interview depicts a company culture that might very well be the key to its success, and a source of inspiration to many other firms.
Tony Chocolonely’s products aim to “create an exciting, uplifting Willy Wonka effect”. Sceptics may say that it’s easy for a chocolate manufacturer to make such a statement. But challenge yourself: every product or service can be designed to excite your clients!
Innovation Entails Willingness To Fail
Henk Jan Beltman explains how innovation – in terms of new chocolate flavors – is the result of “chocolate experiments”. This process starts with an idea, continues with creating the recipe, production, and finally marketing and sale. What’s so unusual here? The willingness to fail. “If it doesn’t catch on – no one particularly liked our Milk Cola bar – we take it out of production and move to the next chocolate experiment”.
Consider how much money has been spent on this failing experiment. From idea conception, through design, production, marketing and more. Many organizations fail in their innovation exactly here. They embark on a new journey only when there is a very solid business case and little risk.
Innovation by definition requires taking risk. Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president for global innovation policy and communications, clearly put Amazon’s success to its willingness to fail: “if you’re not willing to experiment you’ll never actually innovate and if you want to experiment you have to be able to fail”
Companies that are not willing to embrace the unknown, taking the risk that some initiatives will fail, will fail to innovate. Eventually their products and services may be seen as good “substitutes”, but they will not be tomorrow’s market leaders. Success requires taking risks.