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Fail Fast, Succeed Faster

Posted in Agile, Business Strategy, Career Advice, Design Thinking, Innovation, Leadership, and Life

“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”

– Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft

“Early success is a terrible teacher. You’re essentially being rewarded for a lack of preparation, so when you find yourself in a situation where you must prepare, you can’t do it. You don’t know how.”

― Chris Hadfield, Commander of the International Space Station

The other day I was interviewed about my successes and I found myself talking about my failures. It seems that many of my successes started with a colossal failure.

As early as I can remember, anything that I achieved started with a failure. Think about it. How many times does a toddler fall while learning to walk? How many times did you wipe out on your bike when you were learning to ride? If you play an instrument, how long did it take to learn your first song?

Growing up in Michigan, spending the summers on our lake, I was the last one in my age group to learn how to waterski – I made every mistake possible… and became one of the best skiers on the lake.

When I was in college, learning lithography, everything that could go wrong with my first stone did – and I became the resident expert in the print studio after that.

As an artist, I called them “happy accidents.” Something that I did not plan – a random accident – that usually led to some of my favorite pieces.

If something goes right for me the first time, I know that there is some valuable lesson I am missing… And, at some point, I will learn it – and I hope it won’t be devastating.

In Agile development, there is this notion of “fail fast, succeed faster” – fail early, fail better, test early or fail cheaply. Figure as much out early when it is fast and inexpensive. As you get further along with any projects, things become more complex and expensive. There is a great return on investment by figuring things out early before things get costly.

Babe Ruth wasn’t just the homerun king, he was the strikeout king, too. The Great Bambino always swung for the fences.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

– Robert F. Kennedy, U.S. Senator

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