Failing Fast Doesn’t Mean Giving Up

Failing fast is one of the most frequently used words in the modern knowledge based economy full of start-ups looking for the big hit. You read about how every entrepreneur needs to be able to pivot on the spot and come up with another idea if the first one doesn’t work. But how fast should you fail? Sometimes it even feels like failing is a badge of honor, but is failing really the only way to success? How should you understand it and transfer the lessons learned from failing fast into daily lives? And what happened to good old perseverance? Isn’t failing too fast, or giving up too early, limiting your chances of success?

Obviously there is a no easy formula to tell you when to give up and when to plough ahead. But there are questions you can ask yourself to make the right call. Let’s look at the whole decision making process.

Recognize failure in making

The key is to even recognize that something is not working. Sometimes it is easily measurable (for example revenue growth) but sometimes it is more subtle. The best way to recognize that things are not working out is to have a baseline plan you can compare to. Without a plan you cannot really say whether things are going well or not. The plan was to have one million in revenue at this time and we don’t even have a half of it. Failure in making.

Understand why

We know we have a problem and now the real question of “why”. Is it because our strategy is flawed, or the original plan was unrealistic, or the environment has changed, or other outside factors temporarily slowed us down, or we just didn’t execute well?

Most likely there is no obvious answer, otherwise life would be too easy. The best you can do is to eliminate various factors one by one leaving the “let’s give up and do something different” as the last option.

Tweak and persevere

If giving up is not the option then what is? Incremental tweaks (changes) and consistent focus on gathering feedback to see whether something works or not. This can be of course a tricky proposition for some situations. In other cases it can work nicely. For example, the industry standard when building websites, or do marketing is the so-called A/B testing. This allows you to change one variable (try a new idea) without changing the other aspects thus having feedback that really reflects just this one change and is not impacted too much by the overall environment.

This may not be a strategy applicable to your case but the thought behind is the same. If you change something and are looking for feedback make sure you are really measuring the impact of the change.

It is not only about your business, it is also about your career. Way too many people just give up too easily, have low patience, and leave their jobs before they had an opportunity to really succeed. At the same time just doing what you have always done hoping for a different outcome will be equally disastrous. The best strategy is to break down your job into different aspects and then tackle these one by one attempting small changes, recognizing small wins, improving your attitude and view of the world and eventually being really good at what you do while truly enjoying it. Read more in Ignore Your Dream… Do What You Are Good At.

This applies not just to your professional existence but to the rest of your life too. Imagine you are not happy with your life. What do you do? Chances are that not everything in your life is bad and if you attack one aspect of your life at a time you will eventually end up in a better place. Rather than saying “my life suck,” and give up. Or do something dramatic like leaving your life behind and moving to another country hoping for the best. Trust me, I’ve been there, it doesn’t work. Much better to change your life, one thing at a time, focus on the new and positive and before you know your whole life will be different. Mostly because your view of the world changed, but that is for another time.

Give second chances but timeframe them

Just be careful of the “one more chocolate and then I stop trap”. If you really believe strongly that the original approach is fine and it is just a matter of time before things turn around then so be it. I would argue that this decision should be based on real data and some external circumstances that irrefutably show that the reason for you not doing well today is gone. In that case let’s give it another shot but make it crystal clear to yourself and everyone involved what your expectation is. You need to be very specific and timeframe it: “We double down on what we do today and our expectation is that by the end of the year we will have 20% increase in sales.” When the end of the year comes and you haven’t reach your numbers there are no more excuses and you have to change! Under no circumstances should you say ”I see the trend, let’s give it another three months.” If you do that you get yourself trapped in a vicious cycle of excuses and postponing of what had to be done in the first place.


What does failing fast mean for you? Is it a strategy you would use? Or do you believe it is a disaster in making?

Photo: © Marek / Dollar Photo Club

Categories: Leadership

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