STOP USING THE F WORD!
Step, step… wobble, wobble, fall.
Watch a toddler trying to walk is miraculous. Even when she staggers and falls, we aren’t disappointed. We don’t think: Step, step… wobble, wobble, fail.
Why are we in the business world so devoted to the concept of failure? When a small child bounces to his bum after a few off-balance steps, we don’t see failure. We watch him get back up on his feet again. He might have to take a breath, rebalance, or reach for a hand, but he doesn’t stop trying.
There’s something significant here. And it’s not about failing—though it is about pushing the limits and testing boundaries. What if we could take the unbridled persistence of a toddler walking, and place it in the business world?
To start, we need to change the word fail to test. Failure is negative, no matter how we dress it up. We’re better off without the idea of failure, and the baggage that comes with it.
The word test creates a totally different mindset. Think about it.
We don’t consider paid media a failure when A/B test results indicate a fast pivot is required. Staging sites aren’t seen as failing when bugs are discovered during testing.
I say it’s time to apply the strategies of testing, learning, and optimization beyond their current purviews. To commit to testing, which will open up a new world of business solutions. We can cut failure out of the equation, without diminishing our commitment to innovating and pushing our limits.
Smart tests, in business, are like a baby’s early steps. They happen on a small scale (a few feet at a time, not a marathon). They involve assessment (learning to balance, not trying to fly). And they require patient yet enthusiastic persistence. If the first step didn’t lead anywhere, well, we can take that deep breath, rebalance ourselves, and try a slightly different step. We haven’t failed. We’re pivoting.
We have so many models in place for testing and learning strategies. A/B testing, staging sites, and IT pilot programs developed to test software before its release all show us how testing leads to superior products and experiences. And yet we in the larger business world are all focused on failing fast, that tiresome adage. I think we must flip this around; instead of failing fast, let’s push the idea of learning fast.
What does learning fast look like? Consider this list of best practices:
- Don't implement workflows without running a pilot test first
- Don't pivot based on a hypothesis; make sure you have real learnings
- Share the learning concept with your team; it's key that they understand the value in learning first, then pivoting
- There's always enough time to test, when the risks are clearly defined and understood
Let’s be done with the F-word. The idea of testing is so much stronger, more optimistic, and more empowering to a team. Because regardless of the results of a test, we look not to what’s been lost—but to what’s been learned.
It may take some time to make this adjustment within your company and your team, but it’s worth thinking about how you can begin, now. Remember: baby steps.