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Hi Bob thanks for the interesting post.

I'm with the first commenter - Paul To - I think "fail" isn't the best word to use here. Off the top of my head I can't think of better word or phrase.

A few months ago at work I was having inconsistent results in completing one of my regular tasks. I spent four days on refining the steps that I followed and the software I use. I finally found the best order of process steps and software.

I never considered the "failures" as failures - instead they taught me the best way to complete this regular task.

So in the case of "The Onion" if 600 proposed headlines yield 18 usable headlines, the other 582 help the writing team reach the usable headlines.

I'll finish off with one of all time favourite quotes from Thomas Edison - "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."



Wally Bock

Wonderful post, Bob. Innovation is one of those things that companies seem to believe they can engineer the messiness and humanity out of.

One of the Holy Grails in business is an innovation process that produces only successes. As you note here, innovation follows a power law. You need a thousand or so ideas to get maybe a hundred, maybe fifty worth considering further. Of those you may come up with five or ten that are worth an experiment with real money. And, if you're lucky one of those will work and 10 percent might be breakthrough.

The success/failure dichotomy makes it hard to generate trials, especially of operational ideas. A better framework is the one at Koch Industries where new ideas/practices are seen as experiments with learning as the outcome.

Melissa Miranda

Hi Bob,

I love this post- I do it everyday as a product manager at The Auteurs.

There are two kinds of failure: the early small ones that get the conversation/iterative prototyping going. And the big disastrous ones that often happen from locking yourself in a closet and trying to create something perfect in a vacuum.

As a product manager, I embrace the early failure. It's freeing to present a quick, ugly mockup with terrible text that my team tears apart. It gets the conversation and iterative process going automatically (they can't help but fix the blatantly bad). The more perfect I strive to be initially, the less viewpoints I'm able to bake in up front when the design is still flexible. This saves me a lot of time.

Hence deliberately failing early and often is utterly strategic to avoiding big disastrous failures down the road.

Paul To

Hi Bob:

Long time no talk. Great post!

Just wondering though, is there an alternative to the word "Fail"?

After taking your course @ AEA/Stanford, I often use "Fail Early, Fail Often" as the tag line to motivate the research and prototyping teams that I manage. A portion of people though, reacted and said we should not encourage or reward failures.

"Failing Forward" is a possible alternative. I started using the phrase "Engage-Learn-Morph"...


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