The Foundry at the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute | David Eccles School of Business | University of Utah

Myth: If you are going to fail, fail fast.

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Myth: If you are going to fail, fail fast.

Reality: Creating something new requires learning quickly, not failure

Implications: Focus on how you can learn quickly to increase the chances for success.

The phrase “fail fast, fail cheap, and fail often” has become a mantra along with the buzzword “pivot” in the startup world with the advent of the lean startup movement. The problem with mantras and buzzwords is that their meanings becomes diluted or skewed as people attempt to pretend they know what they are talking about. These two popular phrases are meant to help the entrepreneur deal with the fact that it is hard to guess the future. Entrepreneurs may have an idea or vision of the future but rarely are all the details right.This requires entrepreneurs to figure it out the details of what works and what doesn’t either before they run out of money or before the opportunity is gone.

Often startups would wait until they’d finished building a perfect product before interacting with their customers and discovering some important details that require starting over. The lean startup movement and other similar frameworks encourage learning the details by setting up experiments designed to test entrepreneurs’ assumptions about what the customer values before building the complete product/business. A failed experiment can be good news because it may mean the entrepreneur has discovered which of their assumptions doesn’t work; hence the encouragement to fail fast. However, a failed experiment may also just be a bad experiment that doesn’t tell you anything one way or another. Others have argued that not all startups should attempt to be a lean startup.

Bottom line: It is not the act of failure that is essential but rather learning why something failed that is key.


Written by Howard Haines

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