Fail Fast Versus At the Perfect Pace

Fail fast has been a mantra for quite some time. Especially in industries heavily based in technology or ecommerce, speedily testing various approaches and quickly discarding what doesn’t work is often viewed as the optimal way of doing things.

But, despite fail fast’s popularity, it is not necessarily the best way to move a business forward. In my 25+ years researching business success and failure patterns, my findings indicate that success generally comes from a more gradually paced, as opposed to speedy, approach. Quickly trying something, letting it fail fast, and rapidly moving on to what’s next can often mean nobody takes the time to properly develop the idea and give it the necessary fine tuning.

This can easily lead to a long string of failures. And, buried among them, might be an approach that could have been quite successful if it had only been given more time for learning how to make it work, and refining the approach based on what is learned. Success is often stepwise and can easily be blocked by failing fast and dropping the idea before there’s time to fully develop it. Thus, learning, not fast failure, is what’s needed.

Of course, going slower and taking time to develop ideas does not mean hanging on to obvious losers forever, as sometimes it may be quite clear early on that something just could never work. And, I am not saying that there are never situations when going faster may be appropriate. But, for the most part, there is value in a slower pace that allows for adequate learning.

I wrote about the importance of proceeding more gradually quite some time ago in my “Evolution, Not Revolution” report. Additionally, other experts have since had similar findings. For example, in the book Great by Choice, by best-selling author Jim Collins, the research found that speed was not associated with greater success.

Now, more information is surfacing that confirms the value of moving more slowly with new product introductions. And, it seems to go against common wisdom, which says that companies must speed up product development and get new products to market faster.

The Idea Watch section of the latest issue of Harvard Business Review (July-August 2018) featured an article titled “Finding the Perfect Pace for Product Launches”. The article discusses research by marketing professor V. Kumar. According to the article, Kumar’s team writes, “Firms introducing products at a rapid pace have little time to evaluate their products, learn from them, assimilate their experiences, and deploy them to commercial ends.” Although the article says Kumar’s research does not specifically identify the optimal pace at which new products should be introduced, as the article explains, Kumar’s research “provides evidence that an optimal pace exists and that firms should be wary of exceeding it.”

This is consistent with my findings. Merely failing fast (as many new product launches do) and quickly moving on to developing and introducing the next new product generally is not the path to success. Going too fast can easily bring more failure, thus turning the failing component of failing fast into a self- fulfilling prophecy. While some learning may occur from failing fast, the more thorough understanding needed for success generally requires a more gradual pace.

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