Test It Out—Fail Fast, Fail Often

01.11.2017 |

Episode #9 of the course How to have breakthrough ideas by Eileen Purdy


There’s no getting around it: Breakthrough ideas require being put to the test. That part probably doesn’t surprise you. The counterintuitive part that might surprise you, however, is the mantra being extolled in every creative capital around the world: Fail fast and fail often.

Now let me answer the question that probably just popped into your head. No, this doesn’t mean to purposefully sabotage yourself and try to mess up. On the contrary, it means to put forth your best effort and then test your ideas early in the process and repeatedly. Some ideas will work and grow, and others will fail and die. This mantra helps you best figure that out.

“Fail fast and fail often” also supports three other critical breakthrough aspects.

Using the word “fail” addresses an important creativity aspect because the fear of failure stops creativity in its tracks. People stop thinking outside the norm, they don’t share ideas, they don’t collaborate, and it inclines people toward being 100% sure something is going to work or be successful before “going for it.” Clearly, this presents a less-than-optimal breeding ground for breakthrough ideas.

These mantras help loosen this creativity tourniquet. The very notion that failing is okay relieves the stigma surrounding that experience and gives you permission to try new things. It lowers your brain’s defense networks and enables you to think differently and more creatively. Knowing that the most creative, original, and successful people we aspire to be like have this type of mindset can give you the confidence to try it yourself.

It addresses the need for “real” feedback early in the breakthrough process. People often have great ideas and spend a lot of time and money up front fully fleshing it out until they think it is “perfect” before unveiling it to the world. The problem with that, however, is that it can only be a breakthrough if it (a) works and (b) truly meets the needs or wants of other. The only way to know if you are on the right track on both accounts is to test it and potentially fail or fall short of your goal. Get feedback early by putting your ideas out there early.

It’s important that you look outside your circle of friends, co-workers, and family to test your ideas. That group of people are good for moral support, which is valuable, but not so good with the targeted feedback you’ll need for your breakthrough idea.

It helps you build up a key personal characteristic that will ultimately determine your success: resilience. Resilience is being able to bounce back when things don’t go your way or when your idea doesn’t work—in other words, when you fail. It can be a devastating blow if you experience this after sinking a ton of time and money into an idea. If you get in the habit of the “fail fast, fail often” practice, you won’t suffer such big defeats, and you’ll be able to jump up after getting knocked down and continue to keep trying.

The best analogy I can think of to illustrate “fail fast, fail often” and “resilience” is with children learning how to walk. When kids first learn how to walk, they fall and stumble quite a bit. Where do you think you would be today if the first time you fell over while trying to walk, your parents said, “Bummer, maybe walking just isn’t for you?” Instead, they provided words of encouragement and support: “Get up and try again, you were so close, you can do it!” So you did. And you fell again. Then you got back up and eventually, success was yours!

Tomorrow, you’ll get your final lesson on the critical steps of iterating and evaluating. The saying, “last but not least” certainly fits here.


Recommended reading

The No. 1 Enemy of Creativity: Fear of Failure

6 Habits of Resilient People


Recommended resource

For more on becoming an entrepreneurial success with the Fail Fast idea, read anything you can get your hands on by David Kelley of IDEO. You can start here.


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