Often applied in Silicon Valley, arguably the epicenter of contemporary innovation, a « fail fast, fail often » mantra is not uncommon, especially amongst firms who practice an Agile methodology. The experts are unanimous, failure can bring innovation, but under certain conditions!
We will understand together what are the conditions that make failure positive, and in what context its implementation is important. It is above all a state of mind, a release on the guilt caused by failure. This uninhibited mentality led us to conceive that in innovation, without failure there is little to no success. The biggest innovative companies of the past two centuries have understood this and nowadays admit to having experienced far more failures than success in their career. Thus, encouraging the entrepreneurs and small businesses that are trying to break through.
Failure : a state of mind
Innovation is itself a state of mind. In order for her to be born, she requires us to behave in a manner conducive to creation. This means adopting the right reactions to failure, because innovation cannot happen without novelty; the novelty from tests, tests that sometimes fails. This uninhibited mentality of failure is more common in the United States and is more difficult to accept in Europe. For example, in San Francisco, an annual conference on the theme of failure was even created, the Failcon. Companies come not to testify of their successes, but rather to explain how they failed themselves and especially what they learned during this experiment. This mentality lives through the capitalization of the knowledge acquired during the failure.
« Failure is success if we learn from it. »– Malcolm Forbes
It is important in the innovation process that leaders adopt a transparent and uninhibited attitude towards failure, especially to optimize the results of their projects. Dr. Carol Dweck identifies two types of mindset about failure in this context: • Growth Mindset: « Failure is an opportunity for growth. » • Fixed Mindset: « Failure is the limit of my abilities. »
On the same philosophy Baba Shiv, professor at Stanford University studying workplace innovation, identifies two categories of business leaders: Type 1 leaders who have a « fear of failure » mentality (fixed state of mind) and type 2 leaders who accept failure because of the opportunities that flow from it (growth mindset). Is it necessary to ask which ones innovate and succeed the best? The impact of leaders in an innovation project is enormous. It’s necessary to put in place a culture where people can safely say: « It did not work – but it does not matter, what did we learn from this? » Among the examples of the impact a leader can have on the innovation process of his company, let’s talk about the case of Alan Mulally. He was President and Chief Executive Officer of Ford Motor Company. Upon arrival he analyzed the operation of the company. He quickly realized that the leaders didn’t honestly share their failures. He took a public stand to help them build a new culture with a growth mentality that accepts the failures and opportunities they bring, on the same vision as the founder of this company, Mr Henry Ford, for the results we know today
« Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. » Henry Ford.
Many of us have been programmed to see failure as a negative thing. By allowing to fail, we open the opportunity to learn from mistakes made and strengthen our weaknesses, thus improving the chances of achieving success. It’s the attitude of senior management that is critical in this process: if they create an atmosphere where employees feel comfortable trying new things, there will be all kinds of new ideas and innovations!
Success comes from mistakes
The biggest innovations are the result of even bigger failures, because unfortunately the path to innovation is not a linear trajectory.
« I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. » Thomas Edison.
More than an acceptance of failure, some are convinced that failure is imperative for the success of a business. Failing gives us an opportunity to capitalize on our mistakes and see the next step – the one where innovation is hidden. The paradox often noted is the following: failure is the obstacle to success, but it is also its counterpart of it. In a context of innovation, it is important to discern the difference between failure and rapid failure. Because failure determines what does not work. This step brings to the process additional knowledge that brings us closer to the final solution. It is therefore important to fail quickly to avoid wasting time on failure.
« The way to succeed is to double your failure rate. » Thomas Watson, Founder, IBM
It is true that failure is uncomfortable, but it is necessary if you are looking for a new value. All failures are not counterproductive, so we must make the difference between two types of failures: the first is that the product or supply is never built because of a technical inability to develop it and the second is that the offer is built but does not generate success in the market. In both cases, the important thing is to apply the « fail fast, fail often » rule, because the sooner you make the mistake, the faster you can find a solution and the faster you will multiply your chances of achievements.
There is no point in wasting unnecessary time and resources on something we are not sure about. For example, let us observe the Lean business model, which aims to obtain a high-quality work with a minimum of money, resources and time. Which company does not have the same ideals? The « fail fast » spirit supports these objectives if we apply an « agile way of failing ». In your innovation processes, it is important to test your hypothesis quickly with the minimum amount of resources. To do this, an « early failure » or Minimum viable product procedure must be adapted. The concept is simple: when we seek to create novelty, the results obtained can be variable and unexpected. Difficult to accurately predict the results therefore, and it is unrealistic to expect 100% success in each trial. By including the concept of early failure in organizational practice, we can impact the way things are conceptualized, constructed and delivered. Failing early offers the opportunity to succeed earlier, saving time and money. This is why it seems obvious that it is more profitable to fail and succeed sooner than later.
To do this, companies adapting this procedure in their innovation processes do not build complete solutions, they go through prototypes. Regardless of the project, today we have the ability to prototype in sufficient detail to obtain meaningful test results. As technology becomes more consumable and affordable, it is possible to create prototypes with minimal investment in resources, time and effort.
Innovators are by nature agitated and constantly questioning what they do. In order to ensure the innovation process and to avoid a decrease in team motivation, costly investments in change management and confusing updates for users, we advise you to apply the following rules:
•Avoid self-evaluation • Have agile driving • Fail Fast To Innovate Faster
For a long time now, we have been talking about the importance of being agile in the digital environment, and the idea of agility applies to both success and failure. This agility has a different business vision from the traditional model, as is the case for smaller, agile companies like startups, which have adopted « quick and smart failure ». What we must remember in reality is that there is a difference between avoidable failure and intelligent failure. Failure treated intelligently will be the key to bringing new innovative ideas to innovations, and will likely be the key to your business’s success, if you decide to apply the right attitude by capitalizing knowledge.
The next question is:
if you had to fail 200 times before you could succeed, would you like to take three years to fail or 10 months?
Coca-Cola’s CEO, James Quincey, encourages this « agile failure » mentality, advising his teams not to be afraid of failure, to make mistakes, because this is a source of innovation.
« We’ve got to try things. Not all of them will work. We don’t need to get too upset when we have failures. We need to learn, move on, and reinvent… » James Quincey
What we must remember is that if there really is a desire to innovate we must learn from our failures, the valued ones. To do this, a methodology must be put in place to capitalize on this knowledge, which should be accessible to others, so that each company adds value to the failure, even if it has no market value.