If you’re going to fail, fail fast!

Kate shares her thoughts on failure in business and what it means to fail fast.

As someone who loves reading business books, I have come across the concept of failing fast, but it was only recently that I found myself having to put it into practise.

It was whilst completing my final assignment for the CIPD Level 7 Advanced Diploma in Human Resource Management that I found myself having to approach it with a ‘fail fast’ mindset.

Whilst completing the assignment, I had to send different sections of it off to be marked and critiqued. It was a 7,000-word assignment but was split into five smaller assignments and the problem was that I literally repeatedly kept failing each one! Now I should say I am someone who doesn’t like to fail (does anyone?), and I have always pushed myself to be an achiever academically, so it was seriously disheartening. To the point that one evening when I received yet another fail on a section that I was convinced I had done well in, I burst into tears in the middle of a performance of Shakespeare at Stratford-Upon-Avon. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but I was on the front row! My poor 14-year-old daughter was mortified, and it was a big lesson why not to open emails up during an interval of a show!

It was after this incident that I decided I really needed to stop being so emotional about it and reminded myself of the fail fast concept. In a nutshell, the definition of failing fast means to start working on something, immediately gather feedback and then use that to determine your next steps. It is closely linked with the Lean Start-Up methodology as written about by author Eric Ries.

The thing is that that failure isn’t something us humans generally relish or seek out. It goes against everything we are taught from a young age, especially those of us who didn’t grow up in the era when everyone was given a medal on Sport’s Day, regardless of where you came in the race!

But if failure is a part of the process of success, as American businessman and author of ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’, Robert Toru Kiyosaki says, then why do we dislike it? Why aren’t we embracing ways to fail fast?

If, like me, you run your own business, then there is an argument to be had that creating a culture where people aren’t afraid of failing will lead to greater innovation. Failure is an essential ingredient when you are experimenting and trying out new things – as anyone who has ever watched amateur cooking shows will know (Celebrity Masterchef springs to mind!).

My business is called ‘DICE’ and we talk about the concept of business being a game which you might not always win but there is always the opportunity to roll the dice again. In other words, when you fail, do it quickly and try again.

If we can encourage people to fail fast – if it is safe to do so, of course – then we can learn lessons from what went wrong and make changes to improve things in the future. And this shouldn’t be behind closed doors – the crucial element in cultivating this approach as the way your business does things is to communicate the lessons learned widely amongst the team as soon as possible. This succeeds in reinforcing that failure is something that is ok to do around here, and ensures the same mistakes aren’t made twice.

So, how can you encourage a culture where failure is supported and not feared in your business? My advice is for leaders to consider the following…

I am pleased to share that I finally passed the assignment and was given a Merit (when all I set out for was a pass), so clearly all of the feedback from the tutor and the various iterations, made it much better. This is ultimately what failing fast does. So next time you fail at something, don’t be disheartened, do it fast and try again – you are one step closer to success.

If you want help creating a culture of innovation, where failing fast becomes part of your DNA, get in touch. We can help.

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