This is a common phrase at start-ups. The idea has been around for a while, but the jist is that it’s better to get some data and feed it back into your plan, rather than working out the plan in full before taking the first step. At a company, that means getting the customer involved to define their needs before you have your product ready to sell them – they are more likely to buy the product if it actually does what they want. In science (or at a company), that can mean making a hypothesis and testing it quickly, rather than spending time refining the hypothesis before taking data. If the data disproves the hypothesis quickly, you’re better off since you can already move on to the second hypothesis.
But, there is always a balance. The old adage ‘measure twice, cut once’ reminds us of the value of planning ahead before diving into an idea. And, if you dove into your idea above too quickly, you’re often left with a pile of uninterpretable data and the necessity of repeating the experiment (but hopefully you failed so fast that the experiment can be repeated in less time than it would’ve taken to plan it perfectly anyway!).
My natural tendency is to fail fast. I’ll even measure once and cut twice – I know someone will read that and shudder. The good news is that after 22 years of school and even more years of life, I’m well-practiced at learning from mistakes. I constant looking out for ways that something can be done more efficiently or just faster. (And the corollary is that I suspect my own judgement on my initial pass is pretty harsh after the fact.)
So, if you’re reading about my home improvement experiences, you’ll find a lot of tips from me on the mistakes which I made and how you can avoid them (and how I recover from them). My first-time projects at home often don’t go according to plan because I’ve learned along the way and can improve the plan – or I’ve just learn along the way that the plan was bad and I need to stop and regroup. Our kitchen was unique since I’m pleased with most of the major decisions, but even then my hindsight was clearer than my plan…I did not consider that it’s tough to open a pull out garbage that has a knob (not a handle) with your pinky finger if you happen to be in the midst of onion chopping. Our bathroom countertop is one great example of a fast failure turning into a nice final result. I’ll likely be one of the few bloggers who can tell you that you can erase tiling mistakes with a rubber mallet and a small chisel. And I appreciate most store’s return policies since I almost never like the first incarnation of any of my decorating plans.
Here’s to hoping that fast failures can help us all move toward high quality results more quickly and efficiently. My mistakes are most valuable if even one person out there on the internet can skip directly to plan B because I’ve demonstrated that plan A is insufficient.