#LearnFast not #FailFast

Are you taking success for granted?

#FailFast has probably joined the list of business buzzwords; it’s a badge of honour snd symbol of culture for start-ups, scale-ups and enterprises alike. Led by the technical giants of Silicon Valley — like Facebook with it’s “Move fast and break things” slogan — and the Lean Startup advocates, it has become the default poster statement for moving quickly, experimenting and learning as we go. But are we missing the valuable lessons from our successes too?

The underlying intent of failing fast is, of course, to Learn Fast. To execute the items that test our hypotheses and validate our assumptions. In doing so, we get comfortable with failure. We accept that we may be wrong and that will likely not achieve the outcomes we expect. Which is most often the case. We know our aim is to validate that we are on the right path to achieving our ultimate goals. And we will learn this through testing and learning.

“The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.” Eric Reis

As we embrace failure as the opportunity to learn, it is almost inevitable that we spend a lot of time analysing each one. We pour over the data, apply investigative post-mortems, root cause analysis and 5 whys exercises to tease out every possible learning. Failures, however, only really tell us what doesn’t work, what not to repeat; narrowing our available options rather than explicitly pointing us in the right direction.

It is rare that I see the same attention and rigour given to learning from our most successful experiments. It’s easy and fulfilling to take our wins for granted, accepting that we were correct all along, and move forward.

It is an even rarer occurrence that the success is solely the result of the action we took. The context is as influential, if not more so, to the positive outcome. We’ve probably all had the experience of repeating something that worked before, not work again and we’ve scratched our heads for hours to understand what was happening. We needed to better understand the context of the success to guide what we should do next.

When taking a scientific approach we try to control that influence as much as possible — we use laboratory conditions or design controls for the experiment, such ensuring an AA comparison. This is not always as possible, particularly in a world where we are ultimately seeking customer validation. However, we can choose to get below the surface of success applying the same rigour to tell us why the assumptions we made were correct. We can better understand the root cause driving that success.

This focus will help us discover what to do, rather than add to the list of things we should avoid. And this is the significant difference and why deriving the key lessons from our success will provide a more significant insight. Knowing what to do is more valuable than knowing what not to do. When we gloss over the real cause of our success we neglect the opportunity for greater learning, faster.

Success tells us what to do; failure only what we shouldn’t do again.

When was the last time you had a postmortem on a significant success to the same level of detail as your last critical failure?