Ideas have remarkable staying power. And it is not just the good ones — bad ideas can grow like weeds, like the idea of “failing fast.”
The notion of failing quickly and learning from it has its roots in Silicon Valley, and has spawned a number of books on the subject. One even offers a guide for startup failure, suggesting you can “fail fast, fail cheap, and fail happy.”
I do not know anyone who feels great when they fall on their face. Do you?
It’s incredible to consider the number of companies that have adopted the fail-fast philosophy. But this is not just a bad idea. It is actually a dangerous one. Failing fast hurts individuals and the companies they work for.
I am not trying to be flippant, or say that we do not all make mistakes or experience failure. We sure do, especially when we are stretching to grow. And it takes a certain amount of audacity to start a business or pursue a new idea that has never been tried before.
But when I hear about companies actually beginning with the idea of failure in mind, it makes me worry for their future. Pattern recognition suggests they are focused on the wrong goal. We have seen too many companies try to fail fast, but then have trouble pulling out of the tailspin to find success.
You may be thinking, wait a minute. Aren’t the greatest innovations the result of a hundred failures? Isn’t that how we all get better, by learning from our screw-ups?
Yes, but with those great innovations, those were not halfhearted attempts — every single effort was designed to be the overall winning design. The by-product of each effort was some new learning or insight, and then a better idea sprung out of that. But the end-goal was always success, not failure.
You may still think that failure is not a big deal. But here is why you should never aim for failing fast, not even once:
It encourages laziness
One surefire way to lose a race is to tell yourself that you are going to lose before you even start out. After all, why give it everything you have if you know you are going to fail? When you adopt this defeatist attitude of failing fast, you set a low bar for yourself. You will not want to put forth the hard work that is required to achieve success and excellence.
It wastes time
The fail-fast philosophy can cause you to lose momentum and create unnecessary setbacks for your company. Every time you fail, you need to expend the effort to pick yourself up, figure out where you went wrong, and keep on moving. While it is possible to finally get it right, you may not reach your destination as quickly as you had originally hoped.
It creates uncertainty
A focus on failing fast will damage your team’s confidence. After all, they trust you to make smart, responsible decisions for the company. But in the face of repeated failures, they will feel unsettled about their future with the organization, rather than hopeful. They will have one eye open for opportunities elsewhere, just in case the company fails one final time. The fail-fast ideology is no way to build a cohesive team.
Whether you fail fast or painfully slow, failure should never be your goal.
Instead, set your sights high. Focus on your vision for what you want to accomplish, and then take a goal-first approach to achieving it. Establish clear, realistic goals that are aligned to your strategy, and as you reach them, you will get closer and closer to realizing your vision.
It’s time to change your mindset: Prepare for success, and go grab it the first time.
Forget about failing fast. Figure out what you want to achieve and how you will win. Take as much time as necessary to develop a clear strategy, and then make steady progress toward your goals. And be careful to not make mistakes, even once.
What do you think of the idea of “failing fast?”