The notion “Fail Fast” has become rather pervasive throughout the world of corporate innovation and the more I hear it, the more I become sure that it is contributing to waste in the innovation ecosystem. Given its intention to inspire pragmatic experimentation, I’d rather approach it from the other angle and evolve it to nudge innovators to “experiment affordably.” Thereby, we make experimentation explicit and we redefine success as achieving the desired outcomes with minimum resources. And the implied pragmatism is consistent with resource scarcity – a reality for most, if not all, entrepreneurs and a quality corporate entrepreneurs often think they aren’t subject to (even though they always are).

Overall, success is moving forward for the right reasons. Success is also not moving forward for the right reasons.

Failure then can be reserved for more systemic, more impactful things. Leadership missteps. Complacency or hesitation. Or failing to set the proper mechanisms in place to actually capture the necessary data in your experiment. To that end, in pursuit of constructive learnings, be sure to seek both confirming AND disconfirming data. Failure is missing data of one kind (often disconfirming is the neglected kind). Doing so will help you remove risk and triangulate your way to the market.

As a brilliant inventor quite famously said,

“I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work.”

— Thomas Edison

So how do you feel about this reframe of success? 

– Clay Maxwell, Peer Insight + Peer Insight Ventures, San Francisco 

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