Move fast and (not) break things

Javier Rivero
The Modern Stoa
Published in
5 min readApr 28, 2021


It seems, more than ever, that the vast majority of people are afraid of learning from their mistakes. The status quo never seemed so comfortable especially amid a global pandemic, but now is not the moment to stand still, we need to act and we better do it swiftly.

The world has been witness to the impact which the companies born inside Silicon Valley’s perimeter have had in our lives, and this impact has been greatly due to the mindset of the founders behind them. That is why one of the greatest gifts that the Tech Industry has given to humanity is not the iPhone but a methodology.

“Fail Fast and Learn Faster” has become the mantra for people involved in the tech startup world nowadays, and even though this phrase could be ignored easily just as a gallery picture which has been walked by too many times, this idea is becoming even more relevant as we enter a post pandemic world in which cultural behaviors have already shifted.

The “Move fast and break things” mindset is not exclusive to the Silicon Valley unicorn club and in fact, has permeated across other sectors. In a study which included 1,000+ publicly traded companies with revenue exceeding $1 billion, McKinsey found that the ones which were better at executing via agile, cross-functional units with faster executive decision making outperformed the S&P 500 by a considerable margin

Moving Fast

One of the common symptoms of things moving slow within an organization is the paralysis by analysis. A great product or process improvement often starts as an idea or insight from a very compromised member of the team which has found a way to solve for the final user/customer in a very innovative way. At this point it is critical that we put on our “detective hat” and understand: 1. What is the problem we are trying to solve? and 2. How does the proposed solution is going to benefit us and the end user/customer?

Be sure to take off your hat immediately after answering these questions, because this is the point of no return, you can decide to either explore the limited array of probable outcomes and move on, or you can dwell eternally on the questioning phase trying to assess for an infinite number of scenarios and what ifs. This is the part in which most great ideas linger into their eventual demise. Our assessment can only go so far because we don’t have all of the answers, our customers do.

You have (most probably) been there yourself trying to answer and tackle all of the required approvals and questions bombarded by the nearest cross-functional person around you. The reality is that we don’t know all of the possible outcomes. Either if it’s a good idea or not, only our final customer can attest to it. But, how can we possibly know if we never let it run in the wild?

Unless you are a pharmaceutical company and people’s health is on the line, please by any means take all the time you need to do your product launch

Deploy, Measure and Burn

You will need to acknowledge certain amount of uncertainty within the scope of your actions, and this exercise has to be done in a conscious way across the teams and members involved, as we all know and has been said before: “Risk is what happens when every possible outcome has been imagined”

Luck and risk are both the reality that every outcome in life is guided by forces other than individual effort…they both happen because the world is too complex to allow 100% of your actions to dictate 100% of your outcomes. As Annie Duke suggests in her book “Thinking in Bets”:

Figure out the possibilities and take a stab at the probabilities

Once we’ve had our good deal of uncertainty and anxiety taken care of, we should deploy, measure and burn (if necessary).

“Most people never pick up the phone. Most people never call and ask. And that’s what separates sometimes the people who do things from those who just dream about them. You gotta act. You gotta be willing to fail. You gotta be willing to crash and burn. With people on the phone or starting a company, if you’re afraid you’ll fail, you won’t get very far.”

— Steve Jobs

The idea behind executing fast is actually to have a better and quicker understanding of what adds value to our final customer, so we should be also pretty fast to measure and assess the success of our idea, is it performing according to our expectations? more often than not, our idea will need to be adjusted, and that’s a good sign, it means we are learning, our product/solution is stronger than yesterday when it was just a series of numbers behind a spreadsheet. If we see that the success criteria we defined is not being met in a certain period of time, we should then burn and go back to the white board to assess what went wrong and what needs to be improved in the future iteration.


This approach to execution will get us closer to our objectives, closer to understanding our business, closer to a fast learning cycle but most importantly will become a habit inside our culture that will enable an organization capable of seizing opportunities within the market. It is known (to my suprise) that first-movers aren’t necessarily the big winners in the long run, but the companies which develop a unique customer value proposition, coupled with the techniques of rapid prototyping and lean startup methodology of creating the minimum viable product are more likely to create market success.

So, if tech startups have proven that fast execution yields results. Why then, should we be afraid to take this approach?

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