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Why you need to fail early and fail often

>> 16 January 2011

Whenever we have an idea, we would like to run it by some people to get validation.
We want to hear that our idea is great.

We don't want to fail. So we want others to tell us that we won't.
We want to make it foolproof.

Then again, we don't want others to think we (or our ideas) are stupid.
And we often lack confidence in our own ability to come up with brilliance.

So often enough, we keep our idea to ourselves.
We work away on it, trying to perfect it.

And when we think it's ready for the outside world, we often fall flat on our face.

We have invested time, often even money to come this far.

What went wrong?

Failing early, when your ideas are still small (as opposed to when you're in front of the management committee or the board) allows you to:

  • get honest feedback (as no budget, responsibilities or egos are involved yet)
  • change things that don't work quickly (as they don't cost anything or very little)
  • see whether the idea has potential
  • get new ideas (people love to give their opinion, for free!)
So in order to fail early, fail often. Here is how:

  1. Make a short pitch about your initial idea
    - answering the 5W1H questions
    - try to present it like a story (with a statement, an unexpected turn etc)
  2. Make a list of 3-5 people who you can test the pitch and idea on
    - people who would have to be involved if the project flies
    - people with special capabilities (creativity, business development, mentoring etc)
  3. Rework the pitch and start thinking about a sponsor
    - ideally someone influential, known or important (but not a decision maker for this idea)
  4. Prototype your idea - or run a pilot project
    - it's the only way to test for success and get rid of glitches or faults
  5. Launch or abandon
    - by the time you're launching or presenting to management you have gained insight, experience, and feedback and basically know what your talking about and have gotten rid of first hick-ups
    - if you decide to abandon you will have learned a lot and gained information for a next project; and you will have shown those around you that you can ship your ideas

So, fail early, fail often.

But don't fail small! Don't leave out the good, special, weird, compelling stuff because it's safer to fail small.

That makes you settle for Good Enough...

And 'good enough' doesn't fly in business, in love or on your way to the moon,

For more insight:

Seth Godin: Random rules for ideas worth spreading


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