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Let’s 'Fail Fast'!!


Ian Harragan

Director at i-confidential


Failure is rarely encouraged in the corporate world.

It is seen to mean you ‘screwed up’, or you didn’t work hard enough – nothing you’d wish to celebrate.

Another lens to apply when considering failure is to take on board what we've learned from it. The experiences we gained that helped make us what we are today as individuals, or enabled our businesses to improve and succeed.

Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, said, “Fail fast and fail often”. He was talking in the context of animated film production and his pursuit of a great story. It has also been used as a mantra in Silicon Valley that is synonymous with innovation.

Viewed in this way, if you aren’t experiencing failure then you’re making a far worse mistake: you’re being driven by a desire to avoid it. And for leaders especially, this strategy – trying to avoid failure by outthinking it – ultimately dooms you to fail anyway.

To follow Catmull's lead you need to create a safe space where employees are allowed to fail. This means protecting new, fragile ideas, as well as the people who are working on them. He said, "Protection means … allowing them to make mistakes and not judging them in the process, as they're trying to work things out".

Improving innovation culture within businesses should therefore always include accepting mistakes as an essential part of learning. We should get into the habit of referring to them as feedback rather than mistakes or errors.

The objective of ‘fail fast’ is really to ensure the right lessons are learned and to not waste time on projects that are going nowhere. This means you need to share the results of all trials and experiments, good or bad, and crucially, not conceal them.

Let’s remember what Honda Motor Company’s founder, Soichiro Honda, once said:

“Many people dream of success. To me, success can only be achieved through repeated failure and introspection. In fact, success represents the one percent of your work which results from the 99 percent that is called failure”.


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