Failure-Success CroppedWe’ve all heard or read the phrase “fail fast” so many times that it’s almost become like white noise. But the basic concept is extremely powerful, and it deserves our close attention. 

 “Fail fast” became an appealing buzz phrase in our industry because it feels like an oxymoron. Since nobody wants to fail, why would anyone want to fail fast?

Let’s unpack the real meaning of the phrase. Success in any field requires taking risks. You cannot create new value without putting something you already value at risk. It’s that simple. We’re all familiar with the old saying, “You have to spend money to make money.” Anyone who’s ever started a business knows this is basically true.

The problem is that human beings are hardwired by evolution to hold tightly onto whatever they already have (e.g., family, friends, wealth, property, social status, reputation). So we have an aversion to taking risks, mostly because we hate losing anything of value.

Some people have told me that “failing fast” really means “trying fast” or “attempting fast.” I put a more positive spin on it. To me, it means “learning fast.” I prefer the idea of “learning fast” because it immediately conveys the value proposition. 

From my perspective, learning is the key to success. We take risks in order to learn. Each time we learn, we move a step closer achieving our goal.

Last week, a privately-funded spacecraft launched by Israel crashed on the surface of the moon. I’m sure the Israelis would’ve been more pleased if the little spaceship had landed successfully, but it didn’t. That’s the way innovation works: You try something and if it doesn’t succeed, you try again. You keep trying, even when the odds are stacked against you.

Risk implies the chance of failure. It’s the opposite of complete safety. But if you want success, you must be willing to step out of your comfort zone and sacrifice some of your safety. Without risk, there is no reward.

I applaud the efforts of the Israelis. They tried, they failed and they will surely try again. They’re learning fast, which is truly the most important part of the innovation process.

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