The benefits of embracing failure

For the past few years, I’ve seen numerous references to this idea: “Fail early. Fail fast. Fail often.” This notion of putting products on the market before perfecting them and then extracting learnings from the market reaction that will enable you to improve on the next round of the product is being embraced far afield from Silicon Valley’s tech world where it first arose.

In past decades, the concept of taking something to market that wasn’t perfect and that hadn’t been thoroughly tested by focus groups and other costly marketing research mechanisms was unheard of. Who in their right minds wanted to risk failure? And yet, arguably the greatest individual inventor of all time, Thomas Alva Edison, had this to say about the process he went through to find the right material to work as the filament in the electric light bulb: “Results? Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward….”

Obviously some businesses lend themselves better than others to the rapid prototyping that is part and parcel of the fail early and fail often philosophy, software and social media for example. But the underlying theory can be applied to almost any business. Here are two reasons why this approach make sense:

• If an idea is not going to pan out, it’s better to find that out sooner rather than later. How many companies have we seen throw boatloads of money into new products that we looked at and said, “Who would want that?” or “What were they thinking?” Better to get an imperfect prototype out to the market only to be met with a collective yawn than to spend all your resources on perfecting something that produces the same results.

• Rapid learning is better and less costly than delayed learning. The market will eventually decide whether you fail or thrive, so why not let the market start teaching you the lessons you need to know as soon as possible? Instead of fearing failure, embrace it, knowing that it contains the lessons that will eventually lead to success.

We all hate to fail but we now live in a business world where failure is an accepted part of life experience. Many well-known entrepreneurs have failed with their first, second or even third idea before achieving success. There is no shame in this. If you accept that failure is a natural part of the game and its perhaps life’s greatest teacher, it should remove at least part of your fear of failure, which in turns, will remove the constraints that are holding you back from your ultimate success.

Here is more food for thought on this important topic:

“Fail often, fail well: Companies have a great deal to learn from failure-provided they manage it successfully.”

“Wanna create a great product? Fail early, fail fast, fail often.”

“Why failure drives innovation.”

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