For Better Innovation – Fail Often, Fail Fast, Fail Cheap

Fail Fast and Learnby Jim Estill

Companies need to be encouraging of failure. Too often people are disciplined for trying things that do not work. I advocate the opposite. Praise those who try – even if they fail.

Fail Often

  • Much of success is just a numbers game. Try more things and you are more likely to find a winner. Innovation is like sales – you never know which idea will be the winner until you try things. A big obstacle for anyone reluctant to try something new is being afraid to fail. Thomas Edison for example had to make thousands of attempts at the electric lightbulb before getting it right. Don’t give up after your first challenge. Our most successful leaders and entrepreneurs have often had to make at least a few attempts before they began to thrive.

Fail Fast

  • One challenge many companies are faced with is being slow. Using the Fail Fast approach the motto is ‘Just Try It – Now’. Many companies suffer from analysis paralysis where often the best choice is to just try it. It is often better to make an imperfect decision quickly than to not make a decision while trying to be perfect. More companies (and people) lose from perfection than lose from speed. Being able to fail fast can often mean getting a head start over the competition. In many cases you can work on the actual implementation later on and make changes as needed.

Fail Cheap

  • Of course failures need to be affordable. This means thinking downside and risk. Risk what you can afford. Companies that thrive take ‘manageable risks’. Be creative with ways of keeping risk low, perhaps you can test a product with a focus group instead of over-producing. Try to negotiate a deal first before accepting all the terms and conditions. Leverage the power of information and talent. Failing cheaply means you can get back on your feet more easily than someone who overextended themselves.

Having failures does not make you a failure. Not trying makes you a failure.

So Fail Often, Fail Fast, Fail Cheap. Use failure to innovate.

Editor’s Note: You might also enjoy this post – Don’t Fail Fast – Learn Fast

Jim EstillJim Estill is a venture capitalist, author and business consultant. He sits on the board of RIM. He is a blogger at or follow him on twitter @jimestill.

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Jim Estill




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