I often hear that Silicon Valley celebrates failure. This is a clear oversimplification. What Silicon Valley really likes is success. Huge success! If there are failures along the way, they are accepted as part of the experience.
Yes, I get it. If you always punish failure, nobody is ever going to try something new. Small failures can be a sign that you tried an experiment that didn’t work.
Those kinds of failures have three positive benefits:
- They may be part of a gamble that sometimes pays off well when it does work.
- Lessons can be learned from the failure to help improve on future attempts.
- People admire someone who can get up after a failure, dust themselves off and try again. That shows character.
Taking a gamble that doesn’t have a prospect of paying off is reckless. If you fail and don’t learn you are stupid. Multiple failures without learning just means you are cumulatively more stupid.
Because failure can be an indication of someone having the courage to take a chance, the number of failures can be a proxy for the number of attempts that are being taken to do something new. Welcoming experimentation is not the same thing as saying you would prefer failure. Simply encouraging failure can be disastrous if it merely means incurring cumulative reckless losses.
“Fail faster” is not a rallying call to build a history of catastrophic losses. It is an exhortation to:
- Try more things.
- Identify when it is not working and pull the plug earlier on ideas that are not working.