“FAIL fast, FAIL often and FAIL early”
If your kid would like to start playing basketball or start playing an instrument what would you tell her or him?
I doubt that you first thought would be: “hey kiddo, listen to me if you want to be number one you gotta FAIL fast, FAIL often and FAIL early”.
I think you would rather say something like “I am proud of you kiddo. I am sure that if you TRAIN you will become very good at it and I will be there to support you.”
Am I right? Mkay, now let’s think about starting your first business.
You are about to create something new. You have no prior experience but you just love the idea of making it happen. You create your startup and score a lot of points like:
- Finding an a office
- Hiring your first employees
- Taking care of all the paper work
- Getting better at marketing, sales and business development
After a while you realize you can’t make and you have to close down the project.
If you would have to assess your results, this would be like going to your first basketball match and scoring 50% of all your shots. Damn, that’s a pretty sweet achievement. You did some cool stuff, you tested some theories, you have an initial benchmark, and if you keep training you will only improve yourself.
For me, telling someone he failed after his first try is like telling a little kid he failed at walking after his first attempt.
A closer look at failing
Let’s put failing in perspective shall we? For that I would like to share my thoughts on: the definition of failing and how our goals determine if we failed or not.
If you search for the definition of failing you will get something like: “to end without success” or “be unsuccessful in achieving one’s goal”. I believe this is a very important piece of the puzzle.
So, in order to fail, firstly you need to END your journey. Once you stopped you must not continue. You must not take another shot and you must not try anything else. If however you decide that this is not THE END but only a pause, then I would say you didn’t failed …not just yet.
Secondly, you need to not reach your GOAL and this has to do a lot with how we set goals for ourselves or how we perceive other people’s goals. There is a big difference between: my first startup will be a success and I will build a successful company. (Regardless of how you choose to measure that success)
Do you see the difference? In the first example you want to be the best basketball player in the first tournament and in the second example you want to become the best player no matter how many times you try.
Here is what you can take away from this:
- As an entrepreneur: set you goals right, as these will influence your expectations. Focus on training not on failing
- As the judging public: look beyond the first trial and see what else is coming. Don’t label just yet.
What clay pots can teach us about failing?
A few days a go I stumbled across a story that really made a mark on me. I keep thinking and thinking about it ever since and I believe it can add a lot to my point about failing. This story is from a book called: “Art and Fear” and it goes like this:
“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.
His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”.
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”
Here is what you can take away from this:
- Fear of failing is very real and affects our work, even though we try make it cool by saying things like: “FAIL fast, FAIL often and FAIL early”.
- By failing many times at something you get more experience. Again, isn’t this the pessimistic view on training? So why not focus on the optimistic part?
They say it takes 10.000 hours to become an expert at something. One surely cannot expect that to be different for starting a business. If anything I think it takes even longer.
Why should we use Training instead of Failing?
My first point is that failing fast and failing often is actually the pessimistic perspective of looking at all you things you have learned. And if your goal is to create a successful business, as long as you don’t stop you did not fail.
I think it is extremely important to focus on the positive aspect of your work. Either we want to admit it or not, the way we talk influences how we behave (think NLP). By using a different lens/perspective to analyze your achievement you are encouraged to continue instead of quitting. No matter how much we want to change the meaning of what failing means in a startup world, the truth is that everywhere else failing is still bad.
My second point is built on the fact that in many cultures/countries failing is bad.
Not all entrepreneurs have the privilege to start their own company in a country like the US, which understands the meaning of “failing in business”.
I know that the general feeling is that in Europe failing is frowned upon and as a consequence there are less people trying to start their own thing. Imagine the impact on a global scale if more people would be encouraged to follow their passion and start their own company. Imagine if entrepreneurs all over the world would be encouraged and they would focus on the experience gained instead of the wasted time & resources.
Well, that’s about it… Now I am really curious to know what you think about my theory. Is training a more appropriate word for working on your ability to create startups or should we keep calling it failing?
Photo by ryan_fung