Fail Fast or Learn Fast?

This work by Marcelo Bernardes (@marcelobern) was originally posted on LinkedIn.

As I read the article from Jim Belosic (CEO of ShortStack), it got me thinking how many times people get paralyzed by past failures. While entrepreneurs are forewarned of the danger (and sometimes likelihood) of failure, fear of failure is a challenge for all people and we all should reflect on which risks to take, how to mitigate them, and seek to learn from the outcome. It is about reframing the fear of failure into risk taking as a learning opportunity.

Prepare yourself to learn from your journey

I agree with Rob Shelton (global innovation chief of PwC), when a more scientific approach is used, learning takes center stage.

It's about having a hypothesis, and testing it, if the results don't match your hypothesis, you've got data. If the results do match your hypothesis, then you have a discovery. - Rob Shelton

Entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, and business leaders might use business plans to capture their hypothesis, others might use project plans. No matter which tools your situation favors, be sure to document your hypothesis.

Every time actual results invalidate your hypothesis, analyze the data to update your hypothesis. Remember, being right is not the goal, learning from this reflection process is. And applying the learning to update your hypothesis will ensure a continued learning experience.

As practical, identify “early warnings” to help you spot invalid hypothesis as early as possible, and in time for a course correction to affect the outcome. For example, while an annual plan is good, intermediate (quarterly or monthly) goals can identify shortcomings early, allowing you to update your hypothesis in time to still meet a meaningful annual goal.

Finally, it is important for you to care for your health and well-being at all times. This will prove particularly useful as the number of hypotheses reviews (pivots) mount.

Test your hypothesis

A key to success is to be diligent when testing your hypothesis. One way this can be accomplished: pre-schedule regular hypothesis review sessions and commit to them. An impartial advisor might help keep perspective, avoiding blind spots and denial from those personally invested in proving the hypothesis.

As you gain more insight into the hypothesis, you may be able to spot key performance indicators, which could prove useful to measuring progress.

Revising a hypothesis (or pivoting in entrepreneur terms) could happen either because the current hypothesis was proven invalid or even because a better and more powerful hypothesis can be formulated, based on the insight and data gathered during the hypothesis testing.

Learn from your journey

As soon as a more powerful hypothesis is identified by analyzing the data gathered, take the time to reflect:
  • How would it have been possible to identify this more powerful hypothesis earlier in the process? Which “early warnings” should have been in place?
  • Is this the most powerful hypothesis you can identify at this point in time?

Writing down your findings and/or sharing them with others is a great way to make sure this experience is internalized and becomes an intrinsic part of your life experience.

And please note than a culture of “fail fast” should not promote or expect failure. Rather, it should aim to succeed by mitigating risks to the best of one’s abilities, incorporating learning from eventual failures to the point where finding the path to success becomes second nature.

How comfortable are you with risk taking? Are you wired to succeed? How do you learn from your past experiences? Feel free to use the comment box below to share your experience and point of view. And please follow me, if you would like to be automatically notified when I publish new articles.

(Image courtesy of Naypong -; Post updated Jun/22/2014)


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