Fail Fast and Fail Forward

I just finished reading an interesting book by Peter Sims entitled Little Bets.  The book provides some fascinating insights about the true origins of innovation.  The author extensively studied the techniques of popular artists such as Chris Rock, Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Jeff Bezos to better understand how they approach development of new ideas.  Sims demonstrates in the book that many great innovators do not achieve success by placing all their hopes in one big bet nor do they try develop elaborate plans to hit narrow targets on unknown horizons.  Instead these innvotors place a series of little bets, or “concrete actions taken to discover, test and develop ideas that are achievable and affordable.”  Sims maintains that while only a few people in the world are true prodigies, it is possible for anyone to use “little bets” to unlock creative ideas.

In the book, Sims devotes a good deal of attention to the concept of “fail fast.”  This acceptable failure mentality is an increasingly mainstream concept in today’s creative and technology circles.  However, I have found it challenging to convince non-believers of the wisdom of this approach.  And unfortunately there is not much published about the “fail fast” idea on the Internet so I was pleased to see the numerous examples offered in Little Bets.  Sims explains how Pixar, widely recognized for its creative talents, has to use thousands of storyboards to develop a new storyline and script.  He explains how Chris Rock tests out new jokes with die-hard fans at smaller comedy clubs – most of which fall flat.  But by quickly weeding out the good from the bad, Rock can prioritize what goes into this mainstream material.  These artists have all embraced the mantra that the faster they push new ideas into the marketplace the faster they will learns from the mistakes and discover promising opportunities.

Perhaps, my favorite quotation was from Pixar’s Andrew Stanton – Director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E “My strategy has always been: be wrong as fast as we can.  Which basically means, we’re gonna screw up, let’s just admit that.  Let’s not be afraid of that.  But let’s do it as fast as we can so we can get to the answer.  You can’t get to adulthood before you go through puberty.  I won’t get it right the first time, but I will get it wrong really soon, really quickly.”

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