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Fail Small, Fail Early
Despite the contemporary view that leaders learn more from failure than from success, no one tries to make a habit of failing. Failing is painful and can have significant consequences for future opportunities and decisions.
Once confronted with a failure, good leaders do their best to make the best of the insights and learnings that only failure can highlight, but the goal is always to prevent as much damage as possible from failing in the first place.
Leaders who try new and risky initiatives or strategies often attempt to limit the downside of potential failure by starting small. Instead of an all-encompassing introduction of a new idea or strategy, they apply it in a smaller test case to see what happens. If the new initiative is unsuccessful, the damage is contained.
The learning from the failure can be used to debug the strategy before it is introduced again in another limited case. If wildly successful, leaders can scale the idea quickly and still benefit from the power of the idea. But by failing small, the enterprise is protected from significant harm.
The same principle applies to the timing of implementing a new idea. Rather than waiting until everything and everyone is set to deploy the new initiative, the best leaders enter the water upstream and early. They know if failure is going to be the result, it will create less damage earlier in the process of change.
Taking a calculated risk early in a project or process will typically identify potential issues or roadblocks. Learning them as soon as possible so they can be corrected is one way to fail early. The sooner you fail, if that is the likely outcome, the sooner you can learn from your mistakes and make the necessary adjustments.
If they’re likely to fail, the best leaders fail small and fail early. As Henry Ford once said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”