How Failing Fast Helps You Succeed Sooner

How Failing Fast Helps You Succeed Sooner
June 11, 2018 Layla Shea

‘If you’re not prepared to be wrong you’ll never come up with anything original’. This statement, made by Sir Ken Robinson in his TED talk that has racked up over 50 Million views, seems obvious but is profound in many ways. His talk focused on the ways in which schools around the world ‘kill creativity’ because the focus is on getting answers ‘right’. This problem that Sir Ken Robinson illuminates in our education system, is also present in the business world. There are endless scorecards and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) presenting targets to hit or checklists to get ‘right’. So many companies put immense emphasis on short term success, and risk taking can be frowned upon. While there may be good reasons for all of this, an unfortunate result is that the fear of ‘failing’ often boxes us into certain ways of thinking. This prevents us from thinking big. It’s somewhat ironic isn’t it…that while seeking that big idea, we are boxed into thinking small.


This is where elements of design thinking can play a very important role. You’ve likely heard the expression ‘fail fast’. This refers to the design thinking or ‘agile’ principle that encourages us to develop ideas incrementally with iterative feedback from the intended end-user. In design thinking, deeply understanding or ‘empathizing’ with the people who will use the product or service through qualitative research is a critical first step. Then, through incremental development and qualitative testing of ideas, the goal is to quickly identify (and rectify or eliminate) any parts of the idea that are not working (i.e. failing) before a lot of money is spent on actual development. Thus lowering the risk of an actual fail in market.


In order to take advantage of the benefits of failing fast, you need an efficient system or process that provides you with detailed, qualitative, iterative feedback on early stage ideas from the people who you want to target. This process will help you quickly identify which parts of your ideas are meaningful and which are not, and more importantly the reasons why (that’s why qualitative research is so important for these early stage ideas).


While the ‘fail fast’ method has been used widely in the domain of technology innovation, at Upwords we’ve had amazing success applying the philosophy quite broadly. Just a few examples include new product development, brand positioning, message/advertising optimization. We’ve also been applying it across industries including insurance, banking, retail, fast food, and beer.


There are great benefits to using an iterative qualitative system to help you ‘fail fast’. You get:

  • faster idea development
  • increased odds of success
  • greater internal stakeholder engagement/ownership


Want to hear more about how iterative qualitative research can help you fail fast to succeed sooner? Come hear Layla Shea at the MRIA conference in Vancouver on Tuesday June 12, or contact us to find out more.


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