There is a lot of chatter out there about the concept of ‘failing fast’ as a way of fostering innovation and reducing risk. Sometimes the concept of ‘failing fast’ is merged with ‘failing cheap’ to form the following refrain – ‘fail fast, fail cheap, fail often’.
Now don’t get me wrong, one of the most important things an organization can do is learn to accept failure as a real possibility in their innovation efforts, and even to plan for it by taking a portfolio approach that balances different risk profiles, time horizons, etc.
The problem that I have with all of this chatter about failing fast is that does not take into account the power of language. The language focuses people on failing instead of on the goal – learning. My friend Stefan Lindegaard has recognized this and has incorporated learning into his ‘smartfailing‘. But even this approach misses the mark by remaining focused on failure.
When it comes to innovation, it is not as important whether you fail fast or fail slow or whether you fail at all, but how fast you learn. And make no mistake, you don’t have to fail to innovate (although there are always some obstacles along the way). With the right approach to innovation you can learn quickly from failures AND successes.
The key is to pursue your innovation efforts as a discrete set of experiments designed to learn certain things, and instrumenting each project phase in such a way that the desired learning is achieved.
The central question should always be: