The rate of advancement in technology often catapults our business processes into uncharted territory. Traversing through uncharted territory, it’s more likely that we will encounter failure along the way. Given that we simply cannot opt to ignore the technology of the future, the alternative is to get better at managing and even embracing failure. In Eddy Obeng’s TED Talk, “Smart Failure for a Fast Changing World,” he portends that we must learn to “fail smart.” As more and more businesses begin to utilize failure and leverage new technologies to their advantage, the emotional baggage of failure isn’t as heavy as it used to be. In fact, the success of your enterprise may very well rest on your ability to fail smart and fast.
What does it mean to fail fast? Companies that urge fast failing generally reach goals and solutions faster than those that penalize failures. Failing fast encourages team work and the leveraging of ideas from all types of sources including customers, colleagues in other industries, and personal observations. Fast failing embraces idea generation, and builds trust among colleagues. By creating a safe place for innovation to thrive, businesses are able to retain creative and innovative employees.
Failing fast also encourages employees to share lessons learned after a major project ends. Sometimes called a “postmortem,” I often refer to these as “retrospectives,” but at any rate this approach is only half right. Logically speaking, if you wait until the end of the project to look back on the failure, there’s a good chance that many will be learning what they need to know too late. Any company that celebrates failure at the end of a project, isn’t really failing fast, they’re just failing. The best approach would therefore be to create a platform that allows this kind of sharing throughout the project.
When it comes to failing fast, I tend to believe that leaders who embrace the fail fast way of thinking possess a higher emotional intelligence and are able to benefit from the increased learning that occurs with a failure. They also seem more apt to discover the often hidden benefit of forming stronger bonds with their colleagues, which is also extremely valuable.
I once was telling a friend, who manages SEO for a leading job search engine, about how I have embraced a fail fast philosophy with colleagues at Adobe. He told me something that really made me laugh: “Why fail fast when you can fail slowly and keep your job!” The fact that he works for a job search engine only highlights the fact that he is probably not alone in this thought process. It is my train of thought that if more people understood that failing fast is more than a tactic towards further innovation then perhaps it will gain more popularity in corporate culture.
To effectively embrace the failing fast mindset, consider adopting an Agile workflow and an iterative development mindset. There have been volumes written on the benefits of Agile SCRUM processes, so I’ll just summarize by saying the benefits of Agile SCRUM start to show up thanks to more frequent check-ins on the progress of each project and regular discussions of roadblocks. In an iterative development mindset, projects move forward much faster when broken down into smaller portions. This may sometimes be less than ideal, but sometimes that’s okay when you see the bigger picture ahead.
Failing fast has its rewards, but also its roadblocks. The main thing to remember is that regardless of which approach you take, failure is the underlying theme. This can be a great thing in data-driven environments where measuring the impact of negative occurrences allows us to accurately forecast the negative impact of erroneous changes to a website. Let yourself and others off the hook. Commit everyone to learning. And when all else fails, tell yourself what Thomas Edison would say, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”