posted on June 07, 2012 10:02
“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” – Sir Winston Churchill
There is nothing like a good failure quote; it helps us realize that everyone, everywhere has failed at one point in time. Even at our lowest point, we are not alone. And given how bad that point feels, it probably seems odd MessageMakers would advocate for reaching that point as fast as possible.
Although it seems counterintuitive, one of the greatest things we can learn from inventors is this:
“Fail fast, fail cheap.”
In the biotechnology sector, this is often known as de-risking. It's the process of identifying an idea's commercial viability. Applied differently, you can think of it as brainstorming or troubleshooting: the whittling of a notion into a product.
But back to failure. University of Waterloo associate professor Thomas Astebro suggests that when it comes to invention there isn't enough of the good type of failure. Keep in mind, this same paper notes:
“Innovation by independent inventors is extremely risky with an average chance of reaching the market of approximately seven per cent. Of the lucky seven per cent, a large proportion that reach the market -- 60 per cent -- realize negative returns and the average realized return among those that commercialize their inventions is minus seven per cent.”
A 93 percent failure rate seems atrocious and probably something that needs to be reduced. But when it comes to ideas, it’s easy to forget most of them don’t make it further than the “written on a napkin” phase. The eventual big idea is picked from amongst piles of plausible avenues of pursuit.
However, each of those avenues takes time, money, and effort. That means the best way to get to the best idea is to “fail cheap and fail fast.” As Astebro puts it, “Society, as well as most inventors, would be better off if inventions that are identifiable early as of poor quality were not pursued.”
We have many ways of idea de-risking: brainstorming, SWOT analysis, market research. But the most important thing to remember is not to be so invested in one idea – one approach to a problem – that you waste valuable resources.