Fail Fast Mantra Debunked

Part of the folklore about successful entrepreneurs is that they succeeded because they first failed. We, entrepreneurs, are told to “Fail fast”, you’ll learn valuable lessons that will help you in your next venture.

Where is this idea come from? Does it come from athletics where we rehearse and rehearse movements, practice over time, resulting in what appears as an almost effortless success?

In fact, “Fail Fast, Fail Often” is Silicon’s Valley most striking mantra. They are recited on conferences, posters on the walls. Failure in Silicon Valley is not only invoked but also celebrated with entrepreneurs giving speeches detailing their failures and becoming a star.

We see many, Millenials, keep repeating the quotes “Fail fast, fail often, failure is an opportunity”, and I think it is foolish.

This is a classic, misunderstood quote by founders and entrepreneurs. The Goal is NOT to fail but to learn quickly to tackle the most dangerous points of failure. It’s about work and not celebration.

I am not alone, a newly published research by business professors Danneels and Vestal. They set out to debunk the myth that many failures will eventually lead to the holy grail of business success.

Many failures will eventually lead to the holy grail of business success.

Francis Greene, a professor at Edinburgh University Business School in Scotland, wrote after his research failure doesn’t help entrepreneurs in their next venture.

When entrepreneurs do not fully understand the mantra, the results can have the opposite effect. If we only live on these simplified quotes, such as “fail fast, fail often”, we can create irreparable damage.


When academics based on research conclude that the “Fail Fast, Fail Often” mantra is wrong or at least misunderstood. How come it stays conventional wisdom?

When you support the ideas of “Fail Fast, Fail Often”, you create a toxic culture of people aiming for the short term. Staff will race to complete one objective (failing) while running to the next goal as fast as possible (failing quicker).

A better way is to iterate between the objectives intelligently.

When I talk to startups who are hailing the “Fail Fast, Fail Often” mantra, they focus on speed. It’s ok to fail, we reset and go again, and again, and again. And often they link it with Elon Musk, Space X etc.
Even before Elon Musk, the story goes that Thomas Edison failed 9.000 times before he invented the light bulb.

The difference between the failing startups and the successes of Elon Musk or Thomas Edison is that the latest two are not pushed by speed.

Their successes are based on creative and critical thinking.

Great innovations have nothing to do with failing fast, often or any other way. On the contrary, they have to do with experimentation towards a higher goal.

Going back to our two academics, Danneels and Vestal, they are naming a solution “a culture of failure analysis”.
Businesses that create a habit of detailed debriefs of unsuccessful projects are significantly more likely to roll out products that are superior to their competitors.

Stop the madness of buzzword bingo. It’s becoming dangerous. Let’s focus on creative & critical thinking.

Danneels, E. and Vestal, A., 2018. Normalizing vs analyzing: Drawing the lesson from failure to enhance firm innovativeness. Journal of Business venturing

Founder of (eCommerce) ●● We The Business Podcast ●● Art Collector ●● Short Video Producer

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