Fail Early, Not Repeatedly: The Key to Success in Innovation

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In this video, I share a thought from my book The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. Below the video is an excerpt from the book…


Fail Often–or Learn to Succeed?

In recent years, entrepreneurs have been increasingly keen to talk about failures. People in Silicon Valley and other innovation centers organize “failure nights,” sometimes called “F-Up Nights” (more often by the vulgar version of that phrase). Others share “failure resumes” online.

The word “failure” is sometimes used interchangeably with the word “mistake.” The words are related but different. Mistakes might lead to failures, but failures aren't always caused by a mistake.

Mistakes are inevitable, but failure is not.

A mistake is a bad decision or an unintended slip. Failure is an outcome. When defined as “a lack of success,” “failure” sounds absolute, as it implies “complete failure.” If a decision leads to results falling just a little short of expectations, the word “failure” seems too harsh.

Innovators love phrases like “Fail early, fail often.” I'd rather say (and experience) things like:

  • Fail early, not repeatedly
  • Fail fast, learn often
  • Fail early, succeed later
  • Fail small, not big

Let's shift the thinking from “Fail early, fail often” to “Make small mistakes early, learn, adjust, and succeed.” Or, more succinctly:

small mistakes lead to success.

Even if you're not a startup CEO, you can embrace mistakes, regardless of your profession, industry, or company size. You can foster this mindset as an individual, even if your team or other leaders in your organization do not. But it's better when your leaders share this view. If you're a leader, thinking positively plants the seeds for others to do the same.


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Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation:

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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