From a small mistake to a great success: the fail-forward principle

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The discussion about a culture of failure and its absence in the last week has also reached politics and the general public in Germany with the fury of FDP party leader Lindner in the state parliament of NRW. What conclusions can we draw from this?

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Gerd Mittmann Gerd Mittmann_ShutterstockGerd Mittmann is Vice President Benelux, DACH and Nordics at Fyber NV


Mockery and malice for the failed

In his speech, Lindner criticized that entrepreneurs can still be ridiculed in many places if their ideas and projects turn out to be bankrupt. The concept of “fail forward” is increasingly coming to the fore within the discourse.

Roughly translated, this means “failing forward” or rather: learning from mistakes. But what does fail forward mean, how can entrepreneurs make this their own and what are the real benefits of failure?

Nothing ventured nothing gained

This old saying is true even in times of up-and-coming start-ups, because whoever never tries and risks something, the success is denied. Entrepreneurs should not consider the failure to be possible or likely. On the contrary, they should certainly assume that they are making mistakes and experiencing recessions.

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What is important here is the basic attitude, the culture of failure. If misunderstandings are understood as an opportunity, analyzed and the right conclusions drawn, it is already a little less painful and new possibilities become visible. In the company the management wars have to live this culture.

Try to be experimental

Mistake as an opportunity to grasp that sounds easier than it is. Above all, when failures are not reflected, success remains mere chance. Mistakes should be allowed or even desired, but only if you learn from them. The analysis, why something has not worked out and learning from it, are indispensable on the way to success. Digital companies, which mainly work with data, are pioneers. They test almost everything in so-called AB tests before it is released.

In the test, two slightly different variants are tried out. So you get feedback quickly, which is the better version and can apply what you have learned in future projects. In order to be able to draw useful conclusions, the two variants may actually differ only minimally. Only then does it become clear which one is the determining one success was - and after an AB test may not be over yet. Only through constant testing and adaptation does a promising product emerge.

Minimize risk

If a large project is divided into small steps with tests and adjustments, this also minimizes the overall risk of failure. Although small errors must always be inserted, the effect of each individual error is small and the learned is extremely valuable.

For example, companies running a large relaunch of a website only once a year are at a greater risk that the new version is not important than the fact that many small changes take place throughout the year.

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Agility and communication

Of course, AB tests and their evaluation take time. However, the time required to adapt small aspects is much smaller and more targeted than the adaptation of a complete large-scale project. Entrepreneurs stay agile and close to the needs of their customers. For example, at Shutterstock, we work with two-week sprints, where the project teams work on ideas and then introduce them to the entire organization, including the CEO and CFO.

And this is another important aspect: feedback and communication. In this round, experienced and newcomers can share their knowledge and contribute constructively to the solution and optimization. Positive feedback motivates, of course, also uncommonly and sometimes the project of an individual is equal to the heart of many.

Whether startup or large group, anyone who relies on the culture of failure will ultimately be faster than the competitors - even if it often takes one, two attempts to success.

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  1. Ivana Scharf

    From a small mistake to a great success: the fail-forward principle - - Exciting contributionbK00ImItK3 After I just learned again yesterday ...

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