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Todd Williams
VP of Technology and Co-founder. Decades of scars from software development and the business surrounding it. Follow @toddewilliams for musings.
I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.
— Thomas Alva Edison

This comes as no surprise, but not every idea will be a winner in the marketplace. We all fail sometimes, for a variety of reasons, some within our control and some not. And it’s common sense to learn from those failures. But within Edison’s guidance is a true gem that might not be as obvious: it’s imperative to also fail fast so that you may then try again (and again, and again).

I’m not saying you should try to fail. Absolutely not — for any idea to have a chance of success you’ll need to fight for it with all the resources you can muster. However, while doing that, as soon as you can determine that failure is the likely outcome of your efforts, you should simply accept the loss and move on. That may sound easy, but it’s not.

We all love our own ideas, if for no other reason than simply because they are ours. Left to our own devices, our natural tendency will be to “go down fighting,” to the last breath and the last dollar. And that kind of blind zeal will ensure that our first failure will also be our last. But if we can force ourselves to recognize failure and accept it early we’ll win in the long run, through preservation of both time and money that we can then invest in making our next idea (or the one after that) a blinding success.

And here’s some good news. Once we do finally celebrate a victory, the many failures along the way suddenly become nothing more than amusing anecdotes we can use to entertain our friends over a beer. His ability to fail fast is why Edison is remembered for successfully creating the incandescent light bulb filament and clever quotes about failure, rather than his many actual failures.

Here’s the way I like to think about it: Success isn’t a destination; it’s a process of iterative improvement driven forward by a series of victories and failures without the loss of enthusiasm. The only fatal failure is giving up.

 

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.
— Michael Jordan
 

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Posted on May 25th 2016