Listening to the “The Pillars of Our Automated Business Philosophy” podcast recently they used the phrase “Fail fast, fail small and fail forward”. These three concepts are;
Fail fast – if you have a business idea, it is better to test it fast and see if it does or does not work quickly so if unsuccessful, you can modify or move onto the next idea.
Fail small – don’t invest too much time and capital into new ideas before finding out if they are viable.
Fail forward – learn from your failures and apply those lessons to your next business idea.
The presenters gave the American statistic that 95 percent of businesses fail in the first 5 years. That’s a lot of failure! They also gave the example of Thomas Edison who failed his way to success and declared I didn’t fail when I made 10,000 light bulbs that didn’t work; I just learned 10,000 ways the light bulb wouldn’t work. Each failure was a step towards success.
From the script of the podcast;
MATT: Yeah. And really I mean if you’re failing small fast and forward, you can fail a bunch of times and still succeed at the end of that whereas if you spend a lot of money and a lot of time, when you fail, you’re going to fail huge and it’s going to kill the business. It’s going to be over
It is an interesting business idea.
Too often we invest too much time and effort into unproved ideas. Often working on the idea rather than putting it into action. It is only in the latter that an idea is proven or disproved as a good one. An imperfect plan executed well is better than a perfect plan which is never actioned, which takes too long to formulate or is never tempered and adjusted by elements of failure.
It is also interesting how this applies to Freemasonry. Often Lodges and their leaders conceive of Grand Plans to improve the Craft and Freemasonry, slowly investing a lot of time and effort into strategic plans too often based on supposition, guesses or past success achieved in a different time under different circumstances for people with different needs. They often fail slowly, fail large and often demoralize rather than invigorate.
Looking at the Collingwood Masonic Centre as a business – we have had some great aspirations around dancers. We quickly discovered that most were looking for very cheap space and not a good commercial opportunity for us. We failed fast, small and forward and expanded our outlook to theatre groups and weddings. These are proving better earners but sometimes we still find the right dance event or group for our business approach and goals. We explored and changed our approach when it didn’t work, measuring actions and outcomes against our goal in significantly increasing income from external non-masonic sources.
A common problem with developing Strategic Plans (rather than focusing on achieving goals) is they often progress so slowly and take so much effort, that by the time we discover they need modifying, so much effort has been put into them that we become emotionally attached to them and organisationally fixed to them.
Further, often great strategies have no impact on organisations. This is commonly blamed on poor implementation or poor buy-in from members. That can be the case, but also often a large factor in the failure lies in the strategy itself. To be successful, it must be remembered, and to be remembered it must be simple. It must consist of a goal, the strategy to achieve it, and the favourable outcome desired by all stakeholders.
What are the 3 or 4 roadblocks to success that if we overcome will make a real difference to our success and how are we going to overcome those roadblocks? How do we build shared understanding of what they are, and then how to overcome them? What are the couple of battles we need to win in the next 2-5 years to lead to success?
And as we engage in removing those roadblocks, failing fast, failing small and failing forward guided by a determination to succeed and a simple strategy clearly understood by all can be a powerful agent of change.
That’s why the “Make Lodges places men want to be and bring their friends” as promoted by our last two Grand Master’s and current calls to action like “placing freemasonry at the centre of community” are so good – simple, memorable and outcome focused.