The road of progress is paved with failures – that’s not a quote; in fact, I made it up – but when you’re talking about Lean Startup methodology, it’s nevertheless true. If we don’t fail, we can’t grow, which makes failure actually very exciting, and something we encourage. Failures force us to question our convictions, and possibly discard them to make way for new ones that work more effectively.
When you think of failure that way, it’s not so bad. But, it also opens the door to the possibility that:
You’re doing failure wrong
In Scaling Lean: Mastering The Key Metrics for Startup Growth, author Ash Maurya (also author of Running Lean and creator of Lean Canvas) talks about the right way to deal with failure so you can reap the most benefits from what appears, at first, to be a significant setback.
“Can you find the common theme across these discoveries: penicillin, microwave, X-ray, gunpowder, and vulcanized rubber? . . . In each of these cases, the inventors were seeking a specific outcome and instead got a different outcome. But instead of throwing away their ‘failed’ experiments, they did something very different from most people: they asked why.”
As Maurya points out, Lean entrepreneurs today don’t fail, they pivot – but if pivoting means rushing to correct course, instead of examining the cause of the failure, you’re doing it wrong. In fact, pivoting might not be the best response at all. Only through careful, collaborative analysis can you determine whether to persevere with your hypothesis, pivot your strategy to reach your goal by different route, or chuck the idea altogether.
Whichever route you choose, you’ve been given an opportunity. When a hypothesis doesn’t hold true, you have the ability to learn things about your customers that you never would have otherwise – by asking “why?” (a lot).
“Why?” lets you dig deep into the reasons far below surface assumptions. The “5 Whys” exercise developed by Toyota Motor Corporation can be a useful tool after just about any failure, crisis, setback, or experiment.