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11-Innovation Requires a Fail Fast Culture

Errors pave the way to real knowledge and real innovation. Albert Einstein’s thorny path to his theory of relativity is a great example. If errors are punished, if failure is forbidden, then knowledge is not advanced, and innovation does not take place.

Ideas need space to emerge. When walls close in on you, there is only space for one thought: How can I escape being crushed?

Innovation needs a breeding ground to flourish. Of course, important books have been written in prisons. But that does not mean that we should design companies upon the model of prisons, treat employees as prisoners, and expect them to produce great ideas and innovations as a result of imprisonment.

That would be crazy! Such crazy thinking leads to increasing bankruptcies in an age of increasing complexity.

Then there is the second crazy idea that a new idea or product should first emerge in perfect form, without need for further refinement, or correction of error.

And that whoever contributed to an imperfection should be punished. In the agile world, the concept has now spread that it is best to make the biggest mistakes as early as possible, so that the lesser imperfections can be addressed all the more quickly as development proceeds.

This mindset is called “fail fast,” or “build and test.” We learn most from failures. When we accept the idea that failure is a normal accompaniment to progress, continuous learning emerges. We need continuous learning for continuous improvement in these times of rapidly increasing complexity. A Fail Fast culture is the prerequisite for innovation, and a booster of competitiveness.