Stop failing so fast

December 11, 2013

Read time 1 min

Failure is becoming a value in itself. You need to have a certain amount of failed startups under your belt to be considered worthy. Unfortunately failing does not guarantee learning.

Being able to deal with mistakes in a productive manner is an essential skill. Our brain’s default threat response, fight or flight, is not especially helpful in a business context. If we learn to hinder the threat response we can see the opportunities within our mistakes.

When we learn to deal with mistakes productively they become a tool. To test an idea (or an assumption within an idea), we design an experiment, we act confident that the assumption is true and give it a shot as if we already knew it will work. If it does work, perfect. If it doesn’t, we learn from it. Rinse and repeat systematically.

Some of the assumptions we have might make or break the whole idea. Some of them, even if they turn out not to be true, we can go around. We should pick the riskiest to be tested first. This is called failing fast. We test our riskiest assumptions first so we can learn from them as fast as possible.

And this is where we seem to step astray. Failing fast doesn’t actually mean you should aim to fail fast. Failing fast is easy. It’s failing fast and well within the context of trying to succeed that matters. If you’re not even trying to succeed your experiments are meaningless.

Failing fast is not a goal, it’s a means to a goal. Failing fast simply means testing your riskiest assumptions first while aiming to succeed.

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