Fail Fast

We learn from an early age to avoid failure at any cost. The thought of bringing home a report card with a big, fat “F” on it will have any school-aged kid shaking in their boots. Corporate executives and government officials often become embroiled in cover-up scandals because their other option – admission of failure – equates to career suicide.

The truth, of course, is that failure is inevitable; rarely does success come about where failure has not preceded it.  In a well-known anecdote first related by Walter S. Mallory, a close associate of the great Thomas Edison, Mallory once expressed sympathy for Edison when an experiment he was working on did not yield the hoped-for results. Edison’s response?  “I have not failed! Not once! I have succeeded in finding ten thousand things that won’t work!”

At PagnatoKarp, we subscribe to the idea of “failing fast” or, to use the phrase coined by Duke University’s Sim Sitkin, “intelligent failure.” And, well, okay, maybe Edison’s ten thousand tries isn’t the best example of failing fast, but the main point of the tale is that failure can be useful. Obviously, no one sets out with the intention of failing before they succeed, but the key is that if we embrace failure and quickly and efficiently learn from it, it can serve as a crucial stepping stone to great success. Thus, failure should not be regarded as something to hide or be ashamed of; rather, it is proof of trying, learning, growing, and, ultimately, becoming better. This is just as important for organizational growth as it is for individual/personal development. As Rita McGrath of the Harvard Business Review has put it, “If your organization can adopt the concept of intelligent failure, it will become more agile, better at risk taking, and more adept at organizational learning.”